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Lady Devils overcome tough start

If a softball team opens a season 3-7, especially a team like Pearl River Central who has had so much success in the past couple of years, panic can begin to set in.

Coach Tony Labella knew this, and he was proud to watch his girls weather the storm.

“Everybody but the inner circle was ready to say we were done,” Labella said.

“But we didn’t panic and turned it around. I think we had a really good year.”

The team righted the ship after the rough start, and ended the season 19-12 while going 5-1 against district opponents.

The Lady Blue Devils won their district the previous 5 seasons in a row and accomplished that same feat this year, pushing the streak to six years in a row.

For Labella, the squad’s recent success traces its roots back to when Labella became the team’s coach seven years ago.

“The thing I stressed since day one was that we were putting a program together,” Labella said.

“The talent was getting better and the pieces were there, but we needed to build up the program.”

That was in years past, with the Lady Blue Devils now cemented as a top softball program in the district as demonstrated by their dominance the past six years.

This past season the inexperience of the team was a hindrance in the beginning, Labella admitted. However, as time went on, the young players were able to catch up to the speed of play and thrive in a team with only a few seniors.

“I think the kids have done a really good job, and if they’re younger and pay attention to the people ahead of them then it’ll be good,” Labella said.

“The players aren’t selfish or in it for personal glory. Once they clicked, they started doing what they were supposed to.”

Labella and the squad realize that past success doesn’t guarantee a successful future. With some changes occurring within the district, the upcoming season will be filled with trials and tribulations.

“It’s going to be the toughest year since I’ve been here,” Labella said.

“Winning the district isn’t our only goal, but the players don’t want to be the group that lets the streak slip away.”

Offseason preparation is an important aspect for any team, especially one as young as the Lady Blue Devils.

To get ready for the upcoming season the team is playing in a number of summer games to keep their skills sharp, and continue building team chemistry after last year’s success.

Labella said that summer games are a good way to test different strategies, and play in a more relaxed setting.

The games are still competitive, and if a mistake is made it matters.

However, there isn’t that intense pressure that accompanies a playoff game or another game of that stature.

With the summer plans set in place, and an eye toward the future, Labella and the team look to continue proving outsiders wrong.