Greenwich Academy much improved since start of softball season

First-year head coach Charles Pia celebrates with his Greenwich Academy softball team during a recent game this season. — Dan Burns photo

First-year head coach Charles Pia celebrates with his Greenwich Academy softball team during a recent game this season. — Dan Burns photo

For the longest time, Charles Pia has been stressing the fundamentals of softball.

Taking the helm of the Greenwich Academy softball team, Pia and the Gators would work countless hours on the basics of softball. Days would be spent by simply throwing a softball or catching grounders all over the field.

However, the Gators can look back at this season now and easily see the results of all the hard work this spring.

“It was a great team to coach,” Pia said. “I enjoyed the experience at GA. From the headmaster all the way down to my athletic director, and all the coaches around me, it’s been a phenomenal experience. It’s been such a nice school to work at. The kids are some of the best kids I’ve worked with in my life. It’s been a great experience.”

When Pia signed on to be the new head coach of the Gators, his primary focus was to get the team used to the fundamentals.

“I wanted to teach them to be more aggressive,” Pia said. “I wanted them to learn to steal bases, bunt, slide, hit-and-runs, how to play the field, flipping the ball, relays and the right way to catch the ball, turn and throw. We worked on all of it and in the beginning of the season you could see that it was starting to work a bit.”

While seeing Greenwich Academy continue to improve early on in the season, Pia started getting his hopes up.

Although the team wasn’t getting as many wins as Pia would have liked, he had a feeling they would come shortly due to the team’s improved fundamentals.

However, it took three games in the middle of the season for Pia to question the season. Against School of the Holy Child on April 17, the Gators lost 7-2.

“It was a good game, but all of a sudden the girls fell apart,” Pia said. “I was thinking that maybe we weren’t as good as I thought we were and that maybe they already peaked.”

In its next game, against King School, Greenwich Academy was hammered 21-4 and they followed that up with a 15-2 loss to Choate Rosemary Hall.

“Against King we were missing two girls and had an injury,” Pia said. “We were destroyed by them. But during that game I realized that we needed to work on a few things. We had two or three really good practices and it clicked. I told them that I don’t care if they lose, as long as they play their hardest and give me 100%. All we need to do is play good softball and things will work itself out.”

The Gators had a little pep talk prior to the start of its game against Greens Farms Academy on April 24 and the rest was history. They blitzed the Dragons 12-2 and came back on April 28 to shut out Convent of the Sacred Heart 15-0. After upending Miss Porter’s School 12-9, the came back three days later and unloaded on Masters School 15-1.

Even in Greenwich Academy’s 1-0 loss to St. Luke’s School to end the regular season, Pia was more than thrilled with his team’s performance.

“Since that game, we played phenomenal,” Pia said. “It was awesome to see. We lost to St. Luke’s and I still thought we played phenomenal. We left too many people on base against St. Luke’s and I think we should have actually won it.”

Ending the season on a high note, the Gators were ready to take the FAA postseason tournament by storm. However, due to scheduling conflicts, the FAA semifinals were moved a few days ahead. In a rematch against St. Luke’s School, GA dominated play and won the contest 4-0.

The star of the game for the Gators was Jordan Smith, as the GA starting pitcher gave up only three hits and one walk while striking out 12 batters. She also contributed at the plate, going 2-for-4 with one steal and scored on a passed ball.

With the victory, Greenwich Academy was declared FAA co-champions, as prom was the new date of the FAA championship game.

“We went out there against St. Luke’s and did a great job,” Pia said. “I told the coach of King that the team that they saw isn’t the team that’s been playing for the past two weeks. I think we had a chance to maybe have a different outcome against King.”

While the Gators didn’t get the chance to exact revenge in the FAA championship game against King, Pia couldn’t be any happier with the way his team ended the season.

“It was a complete 180 of what they were at the beginning of the season,” Pia said. “The players and the parents all noticed the change. When the players did their own pep talks, they talked about how far they’ve come. It was nice that I noticed the change, but it was even better that the school administration, the parents and the kids noticed it. When the kids notice it, that’s the biggest compliment in the world to me.”

Throughout the season, GA has had its fair share of talented players help out in a big way.

Smith has been a constant threat for GA. In her five of her last seven games, she gave up only 10 hits and 31 hits total in seven games. She struck out 55 batters and only walked five. At the plate, Smith improved so much that Pia put her at the top of the lineup. This season her batting average was third on the team at .395.

Being a sophomore this season, Pia is excited that Smith has two more years with the program.

“She’s a great person,” Pia said. “She pitched her heart out. It was tough for her at the beginning of the season because of how many errors we made. As the team turned around, it really picked her up even more. She has a nice screwball and a good drop pitch. She has nice velocity on her fastball and when her change-up is working, it’s really good. She never bat that high in the lineup and she used to drop her bat. We worked on pulling her left hand through and the more she did that, the harder she was hitting the ball. She became such a good hitter that I needed her at the top.”

Also helping out with her defense and bat was Kate Tenefrancia. While she was able to connect on several extra base hits this season, it was her flexibility that made her such a valuable asset to the team.

“She’s been my person to turn to whenever there was an issue,” Pia said. “If I needed her to catch, play third base, play shortstop or play the outfield, she would do it without a problem. The comfortable thing about her was that no matter where she played, you knew the field was going to be covered.”

When it comes to the team’s offense, Ally Staub has been Greenwich Academy’s leader for bunts. Tyla Taylor has been solid all season with the bat. She led the way with a .489 batting average and was the team’s RBI leader. Against Sacred Heart, Taylor had two home runs and a triple. Hiromi Terai was second on the Gators with a .410 batting average this season.

It might seem a little elementary, but something that Pia spent countless hours on during practices was throwing the softball.

“We worked diligently on that,” Pia said. “The team had a tough time with their accuracy and it is very important for a team to know how to flip the ball and underhand the ball. All my players practice throwing from short, second, the outfield and the relay person. That way they get the feel of throwing throughout the whole field. To watch the accuracy and see the kids self-correct themselves was great. To see a ball get hit to the outfield and the watch a girl chase it down the right way, turn around and pick up the relay person and make the correct throw was a joy to watch. We came so far since the start of the season.”

With a lot of the athletes back next season, Pia has those same high expectations for next season as well.

“I need them to stay focused on what they learned this year, so that way the beginning of next year will be really easy,” the GA head coach said. “If we can do that, we can start to take things to a new level. I also want the senior ball players from this year to be the influence on the new players coming into the team next year. If I can get that, we are golden.”

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