It is no secret the Rockland District High School softball team has struggled to secure victories the past two seasons. However, with a youth movement seemingly on the rise for the Tigers, including having six freshmen on this year’s roster, veteran coach Don Pietroski has reasons to be optimistic.

The Tigers include senior Kayla McGuire (outfield); juniors Kaylee Salo (outfield), Brittany Young (shortstop, pitcher), Danica Gustin (outfield), Kat Fletcher (first base, outfield) and Ashley Dennison (infield, outfield); sophomores Natalie Russell (pitcher), Hannah Hersom (infield, catcher) and Emily Bragg (infield, outfield); and freshmen Hannah Plourde (third base), Hannah Lacasse (second base, infield, outfield), Zoey Proctor (first base), Emma Davis (infield), Shelby Fogg (outfield) and Danessa MacDonald (catcher).

Lost to gradation from last year’s team were Corey Picard, Laura Plourde, Joelle Joyce, Rebecca Clary, Amanda Burns and Maggie McNeilly.

Last season, the Tigers ended the regular season with a 4-12 record, finishing 18th among 21 teams in the region, falling short of the postseason. Rockland also finished with a 4-12 record in 2008 after qualifying for the playoffs in 2007.

Despite having a few down years, coach Pietroski is excited about his girls and what they have shown thus far in both preseason play and on the practice field.

“I think we’ve got really good team chemistry and we are certainly very athletic out there in the field,” said Pietroski. “Our pitching is good, Natalie [Russell] throws really well and Brittany [Young] throws well, but we’re going to be really young. We’re going to be playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores. There’s no question about that.”

Russell will step into the No. 1 role in the pitching circle this season, pitching in a few varsity contests last year, including recording her first no-hitter, which came oddly in a 3-1 loss to two-time Eastern Class B champion Medomak Valley.

Pietroski said Gustin could be poised to have a breakout season, as should Young, if they can respond and accept leadership roles. He added that Hersom “should help this team a lot” as well this year.

“I really like this team,” he said. “I like them a lot. We’re not going to be pushovers for anybody. I think we’re going to be a pretty competitive team. So as the year goes on I think we’re going to be fine and, quite frankly, we’re looking forward to [opening the regular season] against Camden [Hills]. We’re looking forward to playing them … the kids are excited and so am I.”

The Tigers have not lost to the Windjammers in the past four seasons.

Pietroski feels that one of the biggest problems the team has faced in the past, and one of the things it looks to address, is the Tigers ability to find ways to manufacture runs.

“We’ve lost some real close games to Medomak [Valley] over the past couple years, and the bottom line is they knew how to manufacture runs and we didn’t,” he said. “They knew about winning and we didn’t know how to win. So we’ve got to [do those things] and take advantage when teams make mistakes and if we can do that, we’re going to be pretty competitive.”

The coach added that the two-time defending regional champion Panthers should be among the top teams in the league again this year, along with Winslow, Maranacook of Readfield and Oak Hill of Sabattus.

Pietroski pointed out that the Tigers ended last season on a two-game winning streak over Belfast and Gardiner, both of which won games in the regional playoffs a year ago. And while the young Tigers may take some lumps here and there, if they can learn from them and move forward rather than carrying them from game to game, the coach feels his girls may surprise Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B opponents this season.

“What the freshmen need to understand is we’re going to play, we’re going to have fun, they’re going to get a lot of games in, but I don’t expect them to win games for us,” he said. “I expect them to contribute, but they don’t have to be the girls that win the games for us. The older kids need to take that responsibility.”

Pietroski pointed that above all else, the players have to have confidence in their abilities to make plays in the field, have smart at-bats and above all, learn how to win.

“Our girls at Rockland [District] High School in all our sports have struggled this year in terms of wins,” said Pietroski. “There’s no getting away from that. So we’ve got to learn how to win. So if we can get over that [hump] and get off on the right foot [against Camden Hills], I think things are going to be fine. I really do.

The Tigers will begin the regular season on Friday, April 23 at 4:15 against visiting Camden Hills.

Village NetMedia Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at mhaskell@villagesoup.com.