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    Mother Nature has allowed Wickliffe to play just one of its scheduled games thus far this season, but the Blue Devils have a lot to look forward to.

    Wickliffe returns six starters from last year’s squad that finished 16-3 overall and 9-0 in winning the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division title.

    “We are returning a solid core of upperclassmen this season,” said Wickliffe coach Marlana Mucciarone. “I am hoping they will provide leadership and be good role models for the underclassmen who need to step into key roles vacated by last year’s seniors. This group has a lot of natural athleticism and potential for growth with continual persistence and experience.”

    Even with that solid group of returning players, Mucciarone expects her lineup to be a work in progress throughout the season.

    Mucciarone is confident her players will continue to settle into their roles and develop the confidence they’ll need to defend their conference title and make a deep postseason run.

    “This year may be a little different from previous seasons because we will have more fluidity, meaning that positions and the lineup may change often depending on who is pitching, and who is offensively and defensively most consistent and productive,” she said. “The biggest challenges are the mental barriers that each girl poses to herself, including fear of failure, lack of confidence, and anxiety. As the season progresses, I anticipate the girls overcoming these barriers by working together, staying positive, being supportive, and encouraging one another.”

    Wickliffe has four seniors, four juniors, and two sophomores in its starting lineup.

    Senior Mackenzie Gazdak is back after earning first-team All-CVC and honorable mention all-district honors as a junior when she hit .420 with three doubles, three triples, 25 runs scored, and 17 runs batted in. Gazdak recorded a .955 fielding percentage while playing first or third base.

    “Mackenzie is our most experienced player making her have a very high softball IQ,” Mucciarone said. “She is an excellent all-around player but is somewhat of a defensive specialist. She has brought stability and consistency to our infield for the last three seasons at first base. This year, she will continue that role at first, but will probably find herself at third sometimes as we make changes based on different situations. Mackenzie’s versatility also means she will be an emergency pitcher and catcher if needed. Offensively, she was one of our most consistent hitters last year and will find herself near the top of the lineup again this year.”

    Senior shortstop Carla Sakacs earned first-team All-CVC honors after batting .483 with seven doubles, one home run, 23 runs scored, and 25 RBI.

    “Every season I am always impressed with Carla’s continual improvement and overall growth as a player,” Mucciarone said. “On top of her natural athleticism, she is a very coachable. For the last two seasons, she was in the top three for almost every offensive category. She will be in the top part of the lineup this season and continue playing a vital role of our offense once more. Defensively, Carla will be at shortstop again this season. She has a strong arm, quick first move, and good instinct.”

    Senior second baseman Emma McCandlish will play second base.

    She earned honorable mention all-conference honors last spring after batting .259 with two doubles, 12 runs scored, five RBI, and a .959 fielding percentage.

    “Emma did a very nice job for us at second base last year, and she will be in the same role again this year,” Mucciarone said. “She only committed two errors the entire season. Emma has always been a very consistent player and that’s what I predict she will continue to do this season. Offensively, Emma is a very good contact hitter. She struck out the fewest times per plate appearance on the team last year. She is able to put the bat on the ball and put pressure on the defense or move runners. Emma has also become a very good vocal leader on the field.”

    Senior Kylee Janey will play one of the outfield positions for the Blue Devils. She batted .240 last season with 11 runs scored.

    “Kylee was a defensive specialist for us last year in the outfield,” Mucciarone said. “She is quick, covers a lot of ground, and has good instinct when judging fly balls. She is also not afraid to layout to make a catch. Kylee will continue this defensive role in the outfield this year again but is also ready as a backup infielder or catcher if needed due to her versatility. Offensively, Kylee has made huge strides since last season. I am pleased with her progress and excited to see the positive impact she can have in our lineup this year.”

    Junior Maddie Kita earned second-team All-CVC honors at catcher.

    She batted .516 with 33 hits, 11 doubles, two triples, 22 runs scored, 29 RBI, and a .992 fielding percentage.

    “Maddie had a breakout season last year that went above and beyond what I expected,” Mucciarone said. “She led the team in many offensive categories including batting average, hits, doubles, and runs batted in. Defensively, last year, she was outstanding making only one error the entire season at catcher and first. She was hands down our most improved player. This year, as a junior, I would love to see her continue where she left off last season. She will again be at the top of the lineup, probably in the 3-4 hole. Maddie is a good vocal leader, has a high softball IQ, and is a smart, aggressive baserunner.”

    Junior Savannah Javins earned honorable mention All-CVC honors last spring as a utility player and will serve in the same capacity this season as she’ll chew up some innings in the circle and fill holes in the lineup when needed.

    “Savannah played an important utility role for us last year because of her versatility,” Mucciarone said. “This year, she will again be used in a multitude of ways. She will see considerably more time in the circle. When she is not pitching, she will spend time in the outfield or infield. Savannah has gotten stronger since last year, which has allowed her to not only improve her pitching but also her swing. She has been making excellent contact in the cage and hitting the ball hard. I am pleased with what she has done this year so far.”

    Sophomore Amanda Peklay burst on the scene as a freshman with a solid season that led to second-team All-CVC honors. The outfielder batted .255 with three doubles, 18 runs scored, 15 RBI, and a .960 fielding percentage.

    “Amanda is incredibly quick and agile with natural athleticism,” Mucciarone said. “She started left field last year as a freshman but will move over to center this year. Due to her quickness, she can cover a lot of ground to track down balls. She also has good instincts and first-step quickness. Amanda is also very versatile and able to play infield if needed. Offensively, she has been working on her hitting from both sides of the plate. She has become a proficient drag bunt/slapper from the left side but has power from the right. This allows me to use her in a variety of situations which makes her an offensive threat.”

    Junior Mackayla Gazdak will play third base and provide depth at other positions.

    “Mackayla spent some time as DP last season. This year, I hope she is able to play a bigger role both offensively and defensively because she has excellent hand-eye coordination and a really nice swing that can definitely help out our offense,” Mucciarone said. “She also has quick hands and a strong accurate arm on defense. Unfortunately, she is working through a knee injury right now, but hopefully she is ready to go soon.”

    Junior Natalie Blatnick will play third and outfield.

    “Natalie has been one of our most improved players,” Mucciarone said. “She has been doing a tremendous job learning to bunt and slap to utilize her speed. I am really excited to see how her hard work at practice translates to games.”

    Sophomore Leah Blazetic will pitch, first base, and in the outfield.

    “Leigha saw only a little varsity time last year, but this year she will play a much bigger role for us especially defensively,” Mucciarone said. “We need her and Savannah to take care of business in the circle this year. Leigha has made some big improvements in the offseason, and I am very excited to see what she can do this year. She is very coachable and is willing to do whatever the team needs.”

    Senior Maddie McCann will provide depth at several positions this spring.

    “Maddie can help out the team in a variety of ways this season,” Mucciarone said. “Her versatility and strong arm can help us out in the outfield or infield if needed. At bat, she has quick hands and can drive the ball when she makes solid contact.”

    With Blazetic and Javins having minimal experience in the circle, the Blue Devils will have to support their pitchers both offensively and defensively.

    “Both Leigha and Savannah had minimal varsity pitching time last year,” Mucciarone said. “We plan on rotating them strategically this season. They have tons of potential. They have been working hard in the offseason and have improved tremendously.”

    Mucciarone knows her team has the potential to defend its conference title and move deep into the postseason.

    She also knows achieving lofty goals doesn’t come easily.

    “Every year, we have a team quote on the back of our practice shirts. This year it’s, ‘There’s no growth in the comfort zone and there’s no comfort in the growth zone,’” Mucciarone said. “To be successful this year, everyone needs to understand they need to step out of their comfort zone in order for us to improve and develop as individuals and as a team.

    “We also need to be coachable, consistent, and have some mental toughness. When things don’t go our way, we need to be able to keep a positive mindset in order to move forward. It is also important to remember that failure is an opportunity to learn and grow.”

     

    Steve Hare
    Steve Harehttps://www.ohiovarsity.com
    The creator and publisher of OhioVarsity.com, Hare has covered high school sports in Northeast Ohio since 1997. He began as a correspondent for the Lake County News Herald, where he contributed until 2011, primarily covering high school football and wrestling. In 1999, Hare began writing for IrishIllustrated.com, a member of the Scout.com network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. OhioVarsity.com was created in 2004 and was a member of the Rivals.com network until 2012. The site's original purpose was to cover Ohio high school football and recruiting news but since has grown to cover all sports and to provide sports information services to high school athletic programs and individual teams. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.
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