SOUTH DEERFIELD — Carrie Fydenkevez watched her first Frontier Regional softball team struggle to hit the ball down the stretch and in the postseason last year, so she’s changing the Red Hawks’ practice routines as this year’s regular season winds down.
“Our hitting sort of tailed off regardless of the level of pitcher we were facing,” the second-year coach said. “This year, we still struggle against the better, faster pitchers, but everybody does.
“Having gone through that last year, I’m aware of it and whether I can do something about it, we’ll see. But hitting is something that I’ve tried to focus on in our practices more than I did last year.”
After spending a rainy practice day in the batting cage Wednesday, Frontier smacked the ball around its home field Thursday and finished with 12 hits in an 8-2 win over Hopkins Academy at Jack Zabek Field.
Caitlyn Sullivan led the way with three hits and three RBIs.
“I’ve been slumping a little bit, so it was nice to have a day in the cage to practice,” Sullivan said. “I wasn’t making contact at the right place or placing it in the right part of the field. (I worked on) not popping up by dropping my shoulder.”
Cassidy Stankowski reached base four times, including two hits and a walk, and scored twice.
Krystel Enko (one run) and Ally Hamelin (two runs) each went 2-for-4 for Frontier (11-5, 10-4 Franklin).
“Frontier is extremely tough,” Hopkins coach Fred Roach said. “They have quality pitching. They have people who are solid at every position. We are here trying to compete. We are trying to do things the right way.”
Last season, the Red Hawks were held to one run in each of their final three games, including two in the Western Massachusetts Division 2 Tournament.
They lost to Turners Falls 2-1 in the regular season finale, beat Belchertown 1-0 in WMass quarterfinals and then lost to Hampshire 2-1 in the semifinals.
Fydenkevez said this year’s D-2 field appears especially heavy in quality pitching.
Hampshire’s Ashlee McGan, Belchertown’s Samanatha Manitsas, Palmer’s Nicole Handzel, Mount Greylock’s Heather Tomkowicz, Wahconah Becca Grunow and Frontier’s Enko all showing the ability to dominate opponents.
“Manufacturing runs is going to be key,” Fydenkevez said. “When tournament time comes around, those games are going to be won or lost by one or two runs. There are a lot of good pitchers this year.”
After breaking through against the Golden Hawks (5-9, 4-9) on Thursday, Sullivan said she expected it to be a boost heading into the home stretch.
“It’s nice to have a big game,” she said. “Doing well in games like this boosts your confidence for the big games coming up.”
Frontier scored all eight of its runs in the first two innings on nine hits.
Stankowski, Hamelin and Sullivan had hits in a three-run first.
Hopkins got one back in the second when Nicole Morrison reached on an error and scored on an Joselyn Beaulieu single.
Frontier then scored five times on six hits in the third, highlighted by a two-run single by Sullivan.
Hopkins added its second run in the third when Allie Butterfield (two walks) drew a one-out walk, moved to second and third on a wild pitch and stolen base, respectively, and scored on an Allie LaClair groundout.
Enko, who will play at Lasell College in Newton next year, struck out five and allowed three hits and three walks.
“She has been a rock for us,” Fydenkevez said. “She hits her spots. When I ask her for a low and inside pitch, she puts it there. If a mistake is made and the ball gets hit for a home run, it’s not Krystel’s fault. It’s my fault because I told her to pitch it there.”
Savannah Ring, Nicole Morrison and Beaulieu had the three hits — all singles — for Hopkins.
“We are in progress mode where we are trying to get better every day. I think we’ve gotten better from a couple years ago to last year to this year, even though our record doesn’t indicate that. The league is stronger this year,” Roach said. “Hopefully, our kids learn. I just want my kids to not ever roll over and die. Just represent Hopkins Academy and play with your heart and soul and good things will happen for you. We are trying to send a statement to everybody that we are trying to get better, and I think we are.”
Jim Pignatiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.