Cheverus softball coach Theresa Hendrix, center, shown talking to her team during a 2018 game, has had her players at multiple positions in every practice this spring. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

High school softball coaches always want to have a utility player on the roster to fill in where needed. But this year, they are really stressing versatility among all their players.

The reason? COVID-19.

“The more versatile the girls can be, the better it is,” said Oceanside’s new head coach, Wes Drinkwater, who is also the school’s varsity football coach. “Something is going to happen, someone is going to have to quarantine, someone is going to get hurt. The sooner we’re ready for it, the better we’ll be. Already, in just three weeks, I’ve had two girls have to take two weeks off (to quarantine). It doesn’t take much. That’s how it’s going to have to be.”

Cheverus Coach Theresa Hendrix said she has her players at multiple positions in every practice.

“In drills, we’re learning the whole field, and in the long run that will be great for them, to understand the whole game of softball,” she said. “And the coach has to be flexible. Already, the girls have had to go remote (learning) for a couple of days, or they’ve had things to catch up with where they’ve needed extra help after school. That’s where the versatility comes in.”

Old Orchard Beach Coach Jason Webber is subscribing to that same message.

“We’ve made a concerted effort at practice to have the girls play multiple positions,” he said. “They need to learn everything. In times of COVID, you don’t know how many players you will have at practice. This preseason, we’ve been moving people around, playing a number of positions. Due to the pandemic, your regular rotation can change at any minute.”

WITH THE MAINE Principals’ Association’s decision to have an open tournament this season – with all teams qualifying for the postseason – some softball coaches are using the regular season to get ready for what they hope is a long tourney run.

“It gives us a different attitude to the regular season,” said OOB’s Webber. “Yes, seeding is important. But we’re practicing for the tournament. As we progress and work hard and practice hard, it’s all for when we get in the playoffs. It’s those eight to 10 weeks prior that will determine our legacy in the playoffs.”

Yarmouth’s first-year coach, Chris Whitney, is taking it one step further. He has a very young squad, with only two seniors. “My pitcher is a freshman,” he said. “She hasn’t pitched since the seventh grade.”

So, he said, he’s not even thinking about the 2021 tournament.

“Given how young our program is, in having an open tournament, we’re not going to stress out at having to gather Heal points,” he said. “I’m looking at it as, ‘Let’s get better each week and build from there.’ This is the start of the 2022 season, actually. There just happens to be a tournament in the middle of it.

“Next year, we’ll have so much more experience going into a season where we do have to chase Heal points.”

BASEBALL COACHES – perhaps more than the players – will have to adapt to playing doubleheaders. Teams will play doubleheaders to reduce the number of travel days, and because there is greater bus availability on Saturdays.

“From summer ball or travel teams, the kids are pretty used to it,” said South Portland Coach Mike Owens. “But in my time here, we’ve never played a doubleheader in the high school season. Between the doubleheaders and any potential weather, it could really put a premium on pitching.”

SMAA teams have four Saturday doubleheaders planned. Most of the Western Maine Conference squads have three scheduled doubleheaders.

Owens, in his 11th season at South Portland, said in past seasons if he had five pitchers available for a three-game week, “I felt pretty comfortable with that depth. Now, I think you’ll need six. Those guys who pitched in a Saturday doubleheader are going to have a hard time bouncing back for Tuesday.”

SACOPEE VALLEY HAS been one of the stronger Class C South baseball teams over the previous six seasons, making the tournament each year with two regional titles (2014, 2016), one state title (2016) and a regional runner-up finish in 2019. During that time, the Hawks had three head coaches.

Now they have a fourth, Jamie Stacey, a Sacopee Valley grad who was on the Hawks’ 1992 Class C championship team.

Stacey, who was hired prior to the canceled 2020 season, said he hopes to be Sacopee’s baseball coach for the long haul.

“My grandfather was an assistant coach on the 1992 state team when I was a senior and it was really cool to share that with him,” Stacey said. “I love coaching baseball, but to coach it where I went to school, that’s something special.”

Sacopee will look to pitcher McGwire Sawyer, a four-year varsity player and the team’s lone senior. Stacey said Sawyer has a “decent fastball, a great curveball,” and “leadership skills that are second to none.”

“We’re young but we’re a good young. We’re going to surprise a lot of people,” Stacey said.

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