"NEW LOOK" BRAKETTES EMBARK UPON 50TH SEASON
As the Brakettes women's fastpitch softball team begins its 50th season of play, the similarities between this year and the club's 1976 season are so striking that they border on eerie!
While a new management team has replaced longtime sponsor Raybestos and enabled the wonderful tradition to continue, the Brakettes feature an almost entirely new ballclub for the 1996 campaign.
John Stratton returns as field manager and Bob Baird as the general manager of the ballclub. Wirz & Associates, a Connecticut-based sports public relations and marketing company led by longtime major league baseball executive Bob Wirz, has taken over management from the Raybestos Products company.
The 16-player roster, which includes eight Connecticut players, boasts just two players with previous Brakettes experience. The team will play a 50-plus game schedule with home games on tap at Stratford's AlliedSignal Field for the ninth season in a row.
It was 20 years ago when the Brakettes last faced such a major rebuilding job. When the majority of the 1975 National Championship team opted to play in the fledgling professional league, the task of rebuilding the club fell into Stratton's hands. Ralph Raymond, the manager at that time, was sidelined for the season with a heart attack.
Molding a bunch of "no-name" players into a cohesive unit, Stratton and the Brakettes surprised the softball world by capturing the title in the last National Tournament staged at legendary Raybestos Memorial field.
Last year Stratton and Andy Van Etten served as Co-Managers, guiding the club to a 57-3 record and third place finish in the National meet in Decatur, IL. Stratton, entering his 19th year with the team, now has the full responsibility for managing the ballclub. With the season about to unfold, he again is faced with the prospect of building a team from scratch.
"It's a challenge, but it's something I love to do," said Stratton, who is a physical education teacher in New Canaan, CT. "I think we've assembled a roster of some pretty talented, young, aggressive and exciting ballplayers in a relatively short period of time. They will make mistakes and they will need some time to get to know each other, but I'm confident they will do an excellent job of carrying on the Brakettes tradition."
Stratford native Patti Fernandes is the only member of the last year's team to return. Fernandes, the softball coach at Southern Connecticut State University, is an outfielder who will double as a coach for the Brakettes. The only other member of this year's club with previous experience is Donna McLean (1987-89), a graduate of Westfield (MA) State University who now resides in Stratford. McLean, who holds the all-time single-game record with 10 RBI set in 1987, will divide her time between first base and the outfield.
Handling pitching chores will be East Stroudsburg University grad Jennifer Huyett of Kutztown, PA, the school's all-time leader in victories; American International College junior Ravella Gericke, the 1996 Northeast - 10 Conference Player of the Year; University of Hartford standout junior Danielle Simoneau of Stamford, CT, who averaged a strikeout-an-inning to go with a 1.58 ERA; and two-time All-Stater Sarah Maida, a junior at Newburgh, NY, Free Academy.
Catching is in good hands with Debbie Larson of New Britain, CT, an Adelphi grad and former Stratford Seahawk, and Bentley College freshman Jennifer Voegeli of Cheshire, CT.
The Brakettes will be strong up the middle with the University of Connecticut double-play combo of second baseman Alison Hirsch of Stamford and Big East Rookie of the Year Allyson Johnson of Bay Shore, NY. Another talented shortstop, who can play anywhere in the infield, is Sacred Heart grad Becky Van Ort, who now resides in Shelton, CT. Three-time Division III All-America Jenn Goodwin (Quincy, MA) of Bridgewater State will handle the hot spot at third base.
Temple University freshman Katie Souder of Telford, PA; American International College sophomore Kristine MacLean of Brockton, MA; Andrea D'lnnocenzo of Andover, MA, a 1995 UConn All-America; and former Eastern Connecticut State University All-America Ginny Adler of Shelton will also patrol the outfield.