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Plenty of optimism surrounds 2020 Lady Bulldogs

March 25, 2020
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

The 2020 season was predicted to be a special one for the Poland softball team, until statewide softball was shut down on March 12. At that time Poland had only participated in 19 practices. That lack of work didn't stop head coach Jim Serich from recognizing how much amazing talent he had surrounding him, however.

"We were poised to make a magical run," said the coach. "We had such a special year last year and things were starting to look strong. Our incoming seniors picked up right where (last year's seniors) left off."

The good news is that only two seniors graduated from last year's Lady Bulldog squad that advanced all the way to the state Final Four. Although they lost to eventual state champion Plain City Jonathan Alder, the Bulldogs breezed through every other opponent. They finished last year 29-1. At press time, nothing official has been ruled regarding the upcoming schedule. According to Serich, the foes on Poland's slate may not want the games to begin until the ones with his club have already been postponed.

"There are no weak spots in our lineup one through nine," said Serich. "Our six through nine hitters are better than most team's one through nine. Our sixth hitter can bat fourth for anyone. If you're a pitcher (facing us) you're in trouble."

Leading the lineup is the quartet of seniors returning to carry on the legacy of this program. Centerfielder Brooke Bobbey, left-hand pitcher Kaili Gross and first baseman Ally Nittoli are all three-time all-league selections. The other senior is outfielder Rachel Wolfe who will also play a very important part in Serich's lineup. The coach announced that even if the season gets set aside, the school will still stage its annual Senior Night. A major reason for that is that they came into the fold the same time Serich did and have grown exponentially since they were freshmen. In their first year, the Bulldogs ended the season 11-12. They followed that year with 18 wins. Then last year happened putting the Poland seniors on the brink of history.

"These four seniors worked so hard," Serich said. "I'll feel terrible for them (if the season gets canceled). They all saw the growth of our program."

Certainly, those four girls will be counted upon heavily to aid in Poland's success, but Serich also has two juniors that would make any other coach very jealous. Catcher/infielder Cami Lattanzio and shortstop Jackie Grisdale both have been named all-league a couple of times. Lattanzio laced the ball at a .500 clip a year ago. Grisdale is maybe the best female athlete on the Poland campus and is the sixth hitter Serich mentioned that could be in the middle of any other outfit's batting order.

Sophomores Connie Cougras, Julia Eich, Kenzie Szolek, Amelia Mason, Abby Farber and Emily Denney will also be big contributors in 2020. Farber, a second baseman, and Denney the third baseman both hit above .400 last year. Then there is six-foot-two freshman pitcher Katie McDonald who has wowed Serich all preseason.

"She'll get a lot of innings," said the coach.

The top starter in the rotation, and in the Northeast 8 Conference, is Gross. She tossed only 35 innings last season but struck out 70 in that time period. Gross will be on the bump quite often.

"(Gross) is just as good as anyone," said Serich. "She's our ace."

With all of the depth this Bulldog team possesses Serich will have the ability to freely move players around the diamond. His kids' talent is a huge reason for that, but Serich also noted their intelligence as a reason why it's so easy to coach them.

"Almost every girl has a 4.0 grade point average," Serich said. "To have a whole team like that is special."

If this season does end up being as awesome as Bulldog Nation hopes, it has to start with recapturing the NE8 crown. South Range, Jefferson and Hubbard are the three schools Serich called out as possible challengers to the Bulldogs' thrown. Once it enters the Division II tournament, Poland will be throwing down with the likes of Cardinal Mooney, Ursuline and Canfield. The Lady Cardinals have dropped down a division this year replacing West Branch meaning a showdown with their arch nemesis may stand in the way between the Bulldogs and another long trip through the tourney.

"We know we'll have a target on our backs," said Serich, "but we'll be ready to play whenever that is."



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