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PRC softball mixing youth with veteran players

The Blue Devils’ softball team only has a limited amount of time each day to practice since it’s the team’s offseason.

Making the most out of the short workouts is a priority for Head Coach Tony Labella and his players.

There’s a very short window of time between when official after school practices begin and the season starts, which is why such an emphasis is put on being productive during the offseason.

“It’s a very quick turnaround. If you don’t have a lot of stuff in before the first practice you won’t get it in,” Labella said.

After school practices start Jan. 27 and the first competitive game will be Feb. 15.

Before then Labella and his athletes will use the offseason to work on strength, conditioning and glove work.

“We’re focusing on defense, base running and fundamentals. We’re trying to use this time to evaluate, so it’s essentially a multi month tryout,” Labella said.

The evaluation aspect of the offseason is especially important heading this year due to the number of young players on the team.

Labella said he’s promoted several 7th and 8th graders to the varsity and junior varsity teams, so working on chemistry and getting the new players up to speed is the priority.

There are only four returning starters from last year’s squad, so Labella uses the offseason to determine which players will fill roles left by graduating seniors.

“We know what most of them can do, but there’s a bunch we have to fill some positions with. We’re trying to see who stands out,” Labella said.

Players having good relationships with one another translates to the field and Labella said last year the players did a good job of meshing.

However, with another influx of young talent it’ll be key to the team’s success that the athletes build chemistry with each other quickly.

“I think it’ll be key to see how those things gel. The ones who came up last year did a good job of being mature and earning the respect of the older ones,” Labella said.

The players have high expectations after winning the past six district championships, even though they lose players to graduation each season.

This year will be no different for Labella and his team, but Labella said the athletes have a chip on their shoulders heading into the season.

“The program loses people, but you have to move on with new faces. This will be tough, but we’ve gotten used to embracing that challenge,” Labella said.

The addition of Long Beach to the district will add another layer of difficulty for the Blue Devils as they look to keep the streak alive.

Labella said this year might be the hardest for his team to try to repeat as district champions, but that he’s looking forward to seeing how the squad stacks up. “It’ll be difficult to do this year because Long Beach and Picayune are both really well coached teams and have a lot of talent and pitching,” Labella said.