A year ago the softball diamond at Old Orchard Beach High was vacant, the softball season canceled because of a lack of players.

This year the program may be healthier than it has been in years. And while the team has yet to win entering Thursday’s contest with Freeport, it has high goals.

“We’re hoping now that we’re getting into the meat of our schedule, with everyone back and healthy, we can make an impact,” said Jim Pirello, the first-year coach. “We have some playoff goals for Class C.”

Pirello is at the heart of this transformation. A special education teacher at the high school, he would walk around the cafeteria challenging the girls to rebuild the program.

“I would tell the girls that all this money allocated for women’s sports is going to be lost,” he said. “I told them to look at the middle school — ‘Those girls are going to want to have the same opportunities you had,’ I would tell them. We challenged them. They have all played other sports, they know the benefits of athletics. And they all signed up.”

Old Orchard not only has a varsity team this year with 11 seniors, but a junior varsity. “It’s allowing our younger girls to train, to learn skills and to get a year under their belts,” said Pirello.

While the Gulls haven’t won, Pirello believes they’re close. They have a fast, athletic team that relies on good baserunning and better defense. “We don’t want to give up any extra bases,” he said. “If a team is going to beat us, we want them to earn it. That’s what we’ve been working on a lot.”

Senior Christina Colman has been one of the early standouts. Before the season, Pirello was told she was a pretty good catcher. Then, he said, he found out she was his best shortstop, too. Thursday, against Freeport, he had her in center field because “she’s my best center fielder, too.”

Sophomore Abby Dubois has also been a surprise with her fielding and hitting. She has played both in the outfield and infield.

“That’s one of our benefits, the girls are so athletic,” said Pirello.

“I have a lot of flexibility to get everybody into the game and, depending on what’s going on, put them in places to help us win.”

SPEAKING TO Rusty Worcester before the season, he said he wasn’t quite sure how good his Oceanside team would be. While it returned some star players, such as pitcher Rachel Frye and first baseman Kennadi Grover, he noted that “we might have a few bumps early on.”

Right. All the Mariners have done is win their first six games while outscoring opponents 59-7, including a big 3-1 win over Medomak Valley on Monday.

Frye and Grover have provided “great leadership and guidance,” said Worcester. Oceanside is getting contributions from just about everyone. Brooke Dugan, Molly Muller, Ari Curtis, Maggie Drinkwater and Brianna Dugan have all played pivotal roles in the fast start.

“I think teams might have forgot about us for a while, but they probably won’t for the rest of the season,” said Worcester. “We’re just trying to build on this.

“We still have some young players, some inexperience, and we still have to take steps and work on the mental aspects of the game. We’re doing that.”

SUZANNE RONDEAU, meanwhile, had high expectations for her Bonny Eagle team in preseason, saying the Scots could be a top-six team in the tough SMAA.

The Scots took a big step toward that Monday, beating Thornton Academy 12-3 to improve to 3-2. Bonny Eagle scored two runs in the first and third innings, then made it 8-0 with a four-run fourth. The Scots played errorless ball and had 13 hits, with six players each getting two.

“We have a solid seven batters,” said Rondeau, in her first year as Bonny Eagle coach. “If we all piece it together like that, we’ll be OK.”

The Scots were coming off a 7-1 loss to unbeaten Scarborough, leaving the bases loaded three times.

“I’m very pleased,” said Rondeau. “We’re getting better. And we’re gaining confidence too. The girls need to know they can play with any team. Slowly they’re getting that mentality.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

mlowe@pressherald.com

Twitter: MikeLowePPH