Ashland’s Softball Captains Aim to End Playoff Drought

KEN HAMWEY’ Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
April, 2019
Article Body: 

Ashland High’s three senior captains all have the same goal for the 2019 softball season, and simply stated, it’s to return to tournament competition.
Seven years ago, in 2011, the Clockers last competed in a playoff game, and coach Steve Abbitine is convinced that if the drought is to end, his captains will have to make it happen. They include twins Haley and Leah Tallman and Abbitine’s daughter, Nicole. The trio gave it their best shot but fell one game short of a playoff berth last year, finishing the season at 9-11.
“They’ll be the key to any success we have this season,’’ Abbitine emphasized. “They’ll play very important roles and be prime contributors in helping us to achieve our playoff goal. Each one has strong skills and we’ve got high expectations for them.’’
The captains play up-the-middle positions that require lots of attention to detail. Nicole is the centerfielder, Haley lines up at shortstop and Leah is the catcher. Nicole hit .310 and drove in 12 runs last year; Haley hit .453; and Leah’s batting average was .279.
“Haley is an agile shortstop who gives 100 percent on every play,’’ Abbitine said. “She’s a very consistent hitter. Leah has a strong arm, blocks the plate effectively and she’s a leader on the field. Nicole is a powerful hitter and she sets the defensive tone in the outfield.’’
Abbitine, who’s in his third year as the Clockers coach, is hoping his forces can knock down any playoff barriers this season and make the third time a charm, as the saying goes. The journey to the playoffs will begin at Framingham on April 4.
Here’s how the Clockers’ captains view the challenge ahead and what they hope to achieve as the team’s leaders:
A four-year veteran, Abbitine is using last year’s razor-thin tourney setback as major motivation.
“We missed by one game and that motivates me greatly,’’ she noted. “It’s time to end the jinx and get the program on track again. As a captain, I’ll strive to bring the team together, promote team chemistry and ensure that our players bond and stay close-knit. Those are the things that lead to success and to victories.’’
Abbitine’s personal goals are to improve her batting average and RBI total but she’s also focused on being an effective captain. “I want to excel in that role and be supportive of all our players, especially younger kids,’’ she emphasized. “I want to help them build their skills.’’
An 18-year-old who’s vice president of the National Honor Society, the 5-foot-4 Abbitine will enroll at either Boston College or Tufts and major in biology. Although she’s devoted seven years to club softball, she’ll likely compete at the intramural level in college. For the present, she’ll aim to be at her best in centerfield.
“I love playing centerfield,’’ she said. “It’s home and it allows me to have some control and be in a leadership position. It’s challenging and requires having good endurance because you have to back up the other outfielders and also the shortstop and second baseman.’’
Abbitine rates a game against Norton as a sophomore as her best, even though the Clockers lost, 7-2. “We were facing XX Kelly Nelson, Norton’s great pitcher,’’ Abbitine recalled. “I laid down a bunt with a runner on and the throw to first was wild, allowing me to advance. I kept going when the throw to second also was wild. Two runs scored and to get a pair of runs off Nelson uplifted the team’s spirits.’’
Abbitine is proud that her efforts elevated her to eventually become a captain. “I’ve tried to always work hard and it’s a thrill to be a captain,’’ she said. “Hopefully, as a senior, I can play a role to get us to the playoffs.’’
The 5-foot-1 Haley Tallman is acutely aware of how close Ashland came to a tourney berth.
“We just couldn’t get pull out a win over Millis in our final game last season,’’ she recalled. “It cost us but this is a new year and we can get back to the tourney. That’s my goal and I’ll work to help us bond, to support younger players and to also be a good communicator.’’
Tallman wouldn’t mind improving on her .453 batting average but she’s intent on keeping her errors to a minimum at shortstop. “I like playing shortstop,’’ she noted. “I like the action there. It’s a position that calls for leadership and control. There’s pressure at times but the biggest challenge is to deal with ground balls hit in the hole. A key asset is arm strength because of the long throws to first base.’’
The 18-year-old Tallman, who has played mostly at second base in club softball for the last six years, says her best game came as a junior last year against Medway. “We were facing a quality pitcher,’’ she noted. “I was able to make contact and drive in two runs that won the game.’’
Also a National Honor Society student, Tallman hopes to attend either the University of Connecticut or Salve Regina College where she plans on majoring in biology. “I’d probably play softball if I chose Salve Regina but likely would compete in intramural softball if I select UConn,’’ she said.
Tallman has an interesting take on why ending the playoff drought is a must.
“It’s important to end it,’’ she emphasized. “We’ve got the potential and the talent to achieve that objective. And, to snap the drought would be a plus because maybe more candidates would try out for softball.’’
The 4-foot-11 Leah Tallman is passionate about being the Clockers’ catcher and she knows her role behind the plate involves having plenty of savvy.
“A catcher controls lots of things,’’ she said. “I like catching because it allows me to call many plays, I can help calm a pitcher down, or advise an infielder on positioning. Many think catching is physically challenging but it’s really more of a mental challenge. You have to forget about being down and out. It’s all about being positive and thinking ahead.’’
Like the other captains, Tallman’s prime focus this season is on returning to the playoffs. And, she firmly believes it can happen if the team’s chemistry meshes and daily improvement occurs.
“Ending the drought will be a plus,’’ she said, “but it’s not like the program will end if we don’t. My personal goals are to increase my batting average and, as a captain, make sure everyone is included in all aspects. That means being at all team functions and dinners. An atmosphere where everyone’s close-knit can go a long way.’’
The 18-year-old Tallman labels her most memorable moment occurring in a game against Dedham last year. It didn’t involve her directly but she was delighted to see teammate Claire Sheridan make a marvelous catch in right field. “She was having a tough day and was struggling,’’ Tallman noted. “But, on the last play of the game, she made a great catch that clinched the win.’’
Another National Honor Society student, Tallman, who’s played club softball for six years, will enroll at either Salve Regina or Quinnipiac where she’ll major in chemistry. She hopes to continue playing softball in college.
Her coach is well aware of how strong Tallman’s arm is throwing to second base and that was very evident in a tense matchup last year against arch-rival Hopkinton.
“I threw out a runner stealing,’’ Tallman recalled. “We were in a super close game and that putout kept us in the contest. Unfortunately, we lost but we were competitive.’’