The Pearl River girls softball team will feature new starters at five positions and at DH this season.
Not that the turnover is causing the Pirates to lower their expectations after winning their fourth consecutive section championship in 2011.
"It really depends on who you have," Pearl River Coach Mike Carlacci said. "If we had mediocre players, we would look for a mediocre season, but we are confident in everyone we have here. We think we have great depth. With a tough schedule early on, we may have some ups and downs, but in the long run, we trust that we are going to be very good this year.
"I don't think we have a weakness. I think that is our greatest strength."
That is a testament to the depth in the program with Pearl River having lost the senior class that helped the Pirates win four consecutive section championships, leaving openings at pitcher, catcher and every infield spot except third base.
"We're not looking for replacements," said senior third baseman Amanda Hartigan. "We're looking for improvement. We don't worry about who is gone."
Hartigan is one of the returning starters, along with the entire outfield. Seniors Nicole Leote (left), Kristyn Neroda (center) and Shannon McKiernan (right) provided strong defense last season.
"We have our whole outfield coming back," Carlacci said. "They did a great job last year. There is no reason they won't again."
Neroda, a starter since her sophomore year, batted .410 with a .490 on-base percentage, scored 28 runs and stole 19 bases as a junior. Leote batted .347 with 13 RBI and 20 runs scored. McKiernan saw limited at-bats as a junior.
"As seniors, we have a bigger role," Neroda said. "It's different because as seniors we are the leaders. We're focusing on the team as a whole. We have a young infield, but Amanda is there and she will help them a lot."
Hartigan hit .273 with six doubles, 10 RBI and 14 runs scored, including the game-winner in the section championship game against Eastchester, but her greatest value is with her glove.
"Amanda is probably the best defensive player in the county," Carlacci said. "We have nice pieces coming back, plus the people we have filling in are good defensive players."
Only one of those projected new starters, Katherine McLaughlin, is a senior. McLaughlin is expected to share time at second base and DH with sophomore Erin Woods.
Woods is one of five sophomores expected to start, along with shortstop Samantha Alicandri, catcher Deidre O'Malley and pitchers Mandy McCarthy and Caroline Kardashian. All five of them had opportunities to start games as freshmen, with McCarthy eventually taking over as the team's DH while Alicandri and Woods saw extensive time as courtesy runners.
"I think it helps that they were brought up freshman year," Hartigan said. "They got to see what the game is like, how much faster-moving it is."
That sophomore class played together on the Pearl River Junior Softball team that won a state championship and came within one game of reaching the Little League World Series.
"We have a young team this year, but they are all great players," Neroda said. "We are not asking them to replace the great seniors who graduated. Just do their jobs."
"They are all good players," Carlacci said. "They will do their parts. You can win in different ways. You can win by having a superstar or you can win by having a lot of good parts. There isn't anything anybody can expose on us. We do everything well. Together, if everyone does their role, we're going to be pretty good."
That will start with the pitching of McCarthy and Kardashian. Carlacci said they would split time, with whoever is not pitching starting at first base. McCarthy emerged as a power threat in the lineup as a freshman, batting .333 with two home runs and 13 RBI.
The Pirates graduated much of the power in their lineup, but Pearl River relies heavily on its running game and this team may be even faster than last year's.
"This year we have so much speed," Neroda said. "We have slappers and everyone can bunt. We build our game around speed."
"We're really aggressive on the bases," Hartigan said. "Speed is really going to help this year. This is maybe one of the fastest teams we've ever had. Everyone knows how to run the bases. I don't not trust any one person on this team."
Carlacci said the early-season schedule will challenge the young lineup. Pearl River opens the season at home April 3 at 4 p.m. against Horace Greeley.
2012 Pearl River softball roster