The Lowell girls’ softball team has been forced to do a bit of reshuffling this spring.
Graduation claimed multisport standout Shyan Mwai , now playing basketball at Iona, along with Merrimack Valley Conference all-stars Nicole Capra, Olivia Crowley, and Brittany Mota.
So coach Bo Durso has three new starters in the infield. Senior captain Erin McPhee, the starting left fielder in 2018, plays second base. Mayson Soucy has shifted from reserve second baseman to third, while Shyanne Greene has moved from third to shortstop.
Yet the Red Raiders are off to a 6-0 start with wins over sixth-ranked Methuen, No. 7 Acton-Boxborough, and No. 11 Braintree.
The biggest addition to the infield is in the circle, with freshman righthander Giana LaCedra . And she is certainly acclimated to competing at a high level.
LaCedra has played for the highly regarded Rhode Island Thunder travel program for four seasons, and last fall she was one of two freshman to play for the U18 showcase squad.
“I just stuck with it,” LaCedra said. “I decided to pitch, so I just worked with my dad on it. I just kept going from there.”
Her impact was immediate.
In the second game of the season, she struck out a school-record 19 hitters. Her repertoire centers around her breaking pitches.
“I go for my screw[ball] or rise,” she said. “I think it has the most movement, and it really gets with the batters.”
With dominance in the circle and a remade infield that is developing chemistry, Lowell has outscored foes, 30-7.
“With strong pitching, it allows us to make plays,” said senior captain Laura Heslin, who has shifted from second base to left field.“It puts the ball into play, and we’re able to make all those outs.”
The Raiders have certainly set the bar high with an upcoming schedule that features two meetings against MVC foes North Andover, Andover, Lawrence, Haverhill — along with single games against Billerica, Chelmsford, and Dracut — their compete level won’t slow.
“A lot of the high school teams think we’re the underdogs,” LaCedra said.
“Those games against the higher-ranked teams get us more motivated and more pumped up.”
“We really surprised ourselves,” added McPhee. “We went into Methuen (a 1-0 win) really wanting to win. I feel like we just kept our confidence level up there.”
As progression continues on the field, the core is focused on developing relationships off the diamond.
LaCedra said the team gets together after practice and games and on days off.
“That was one of my biggest fears coming into high school,” she said. “I never played for a team other than travel, so having that supportive group of girls and having them be so kind and welcoming; it was really good to have that.”
Durso said that the work that goes into team building away from structured practices and games is emerging, setting this group apart from other teams he has coached.
“We have good chemistry,” Durso said. “That’s huge. The kids, they talk, they communicate. They work hard together.”
In the last six seasons, Lowell has twice advanced to the D1 North quarterfinals (2012 and 2017). This squad appears to have the right mix to make another run.
“We have to believe,” LaCedra said. “Our coach always tells us to believe and really think about what we can do to show our best performance. We’re all united, and we work really well together. I really think that with our talent and our energy, we could make it further.”
■ Much improved and playing with determination, Westport (3-3) has already equaled last year’s win total. The Wildcats returned a number of starters, but also have been buoyed by a number of freshmen who decided to stay at Westport. In the past, school choice has hurt small school programs, with a number of multisport athletes opting to attend private school or larger public schools in the area.
That is not the case this year.
“Having last year under our belt was beneficial,” Westport coach Monique Lyons said. “We have a lot of young kids, but they’re all eager to work hard.”
The leader is center fielder Jordan Theriault , who was last year’s team MVP as a seventh grader. A pair of freshmen, pitcher Arianna DosVais and catcher Abbey Silvia , form a promising battery.
Westport has one senior, third baseman Cheyenne Smeaton , and one junior, first baseman Madison Collins, both of whom are vocal leaders.
■ Methuen coach Jason Smith earned his 200th career victory Friday afternoon with a 24-0 triumph over Lawrence. The 14-year coach has led Methuen to 13 straight winning seasons and has created a model for establishing a successful softball program.
■ Calling all league/conference reps: the Globe will publish hitting and pitching statistics on Monday. Please send league leaders to firstname.lastname@example.org by Sunday at 2 p.m.
Games to watch
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