Giana Russo, right, works with Mallory Fairbanks on a batting practice during indoor softball practice at Lisbon High School. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
LISBON — What looked like a big, empty hole to fill was actually just a chance to start anew for the Lisbon softball team.
After losing five key senior players, the Greyhounds appeared to be in a bit of rebuilding mode coming into this season. Yet the results say otherwise. Head coach Terri Tlumac and assistant Steve Curtis rebuilt the roster on the fly, and Lisbon enters the Class C South playoffs with a 12-4 record and the No. 3 seed.
“I think that we had a good core of kids that were returning from last year,” Tlumac said. “Having lost eight seniors, the group that I had coming back filled those slots very nicely, and the freshman addition for a pitcher, and some of the girls that I pulled up that were on JV last year have really risen to the challenge and have done a great job out there for us.”
The Greyhounds had to replace their pitcher and catcher, as well as a starting infielder and two starting outfielders, from last year’s team that went 10-6 during the regular season before falling in the regional semifinals to Madison.
“I think that we had a lot of girls that wanted to play in certain positions, so it made them work harder to actually fill those roles, and I think that that has helped us a lot,” senior captain and shortstop Brittany Norman said.
Lisbon got a bonus newcomer when freshman Abby Miner transferred to the school after her family moved to Maine from Georgia.
“We’re so lucky to have her,” senior captain and outfielder Morgan Fenderson said.
Miner has given the Greyhounds a young but talented pitcher. She dealt with an injury for part of the season, but when she’s been healthy it’s allowed Tlumac to put junior Mallory Fairbanks at second base, which Fenderson calls her best position.
“Having (Abby) come back, with her ability to throw a variety of pitches, has been awesome,” Tlumac said. “She’s a great asset. She’s young. She’s got a lot to learn, but she’s very coachable. She’ll listen to anything you have to say, and that’s great for a freshman pitcher.”
Whether it’s been Miner or Fairbanks in the circle hasn’t changed who is behind the plate — though that is another of the filled holes. Sophomore Giana Russo took over catching duties this year, after playing second last year, and has kept the Greyhounds in a lot of games, according to Tlumac.
With new faces in new places it’s a new-look Lisbon team this year. And the sum of the parts added up to a big win at the start of the season. The Greyhounds beat C South contender Carrabec on the road in the opener, giving the team confidence right out of the gates.
They suffered their first loss four games into the season against Oak Hill, then fell at Madison three games later after getting off to a 5-1 start to the season. Yet the defeat at the hands of the Bulldogs only helped grow the Greyhounds’ confidence.
“We played Madison, and we lost to them by one run, and it was when our starting pitcher was hurt, too,” Norman said. “So I think that, now that she’s back, if we face them again I think that we can win.”
A loss to Winthrop had a similar effect on the Greyhounds. They faced the Ramblers again a week later and won — a victory that helped seal Lisbon’s top-three finish.
Tlumac said half her team doesn’t even know how the Heal points system works, while the other half check it religiously after every game. The team as a whole, however, has shown an ability to move on to the next game, regardless.
“I think the strength of this team is their ability to move forward, their ability to forget,” Tlumac said. “It’s a blessing that some of them don’t understand, like, batting averages, or they don’t even care what that means, they just know that they’re producing and winning games.”
It’s been a little bit of everybody helping the Greyhounds win. Tlumac said no one player has shined any brighter than the rest. She admits it’s cliche, but teamwork “has been a big thing.”
“I think we have a really good team dynamic this year. We are feeling like more of a family,” Fenderson said.
Many of the players are on teams together in multiple sports throughout the school year, while others — like Norman — play together on travel teams. In either case, there was already chemistry built up before this season.
There’s still room to grow, however.
Norman said the penultimate regular-season game — the win over Winthrop — was probably the team’s best game of the season, but Fenderson countered that the team hasn’t put together many complete offensive and defensive efforts. She thinks it could happen in the postseason, though.
“I think that during playoff seasons a lot of our players really shine more than we do during regular season, especially because it’s a higher competition. And it’s more intense,” Fenderson said. “There’s always a bigger crowd, more people are cheering, you have under-the-lights games. But I think it’s definitely just a lot of our players are used to playing in higher-stakes competitions, and then we just know that we want to win it, and it’s just that drive to win it.”
The Greyhounds enter the playoffs with plenty of confidence, enough that Tlumac said she has to try to keep her team in check, but she knows her team has the ability to back up its bravado.
“I think that their desire and their athleticism will carry us through,” Tlumac said.
Kiley Merritt hits a softball tossed to her by Joanna Turner at an indoor softball practice at Lisbon High School on Monday afternoon. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)