PARIS — Having two seasoned pitchers is a luxury for any coach, but it can also be a challenge.

Figuring out how to utilize them and maximize their talents can be a mental exercise that rarely ends. It’s a good problem for Oxford Hills to have. Two veteran hurlers give them options and a variety of strategies in using them.

“We sit there and contemplate when we put them in and when we take them out,” Oxford Hills coach Cindy Goddard said. “When the game is over, we study it over and over again.”

The Vikings have two returning senior pitchers — Erika Whitman and Cody Akers. They’ve each been pitching for Goddard for a few seasons now and bring a wealth of experience to the pitcher’s circle. But it still doesn’t end the constant decision-making process. Goddard says she’ll use them regularly as she has in the past, but still, you never know what might happen.

“We’ll kind of alternate,” Goddard said. “If someone is throwing a no-hitter, we keep them in as long as we can. I think we alternate almost every four innings. I’m not sure if that’s the game plan, but it could be. If one is struggling, they’ll come out and play another spot. So they’ll have a spot somewhere. That’s what we’ve done all preseason.”

Whitman and Akers are used to that routine and are prepared for anything. They’re the only seniors on the squad and just two of a small number of returning players for the Vikings. Goddard has an unusually young squad. Though pitching is always critical, the play and leadership of her two veteran hurlers is expected to play a significant role this season.

“Pitching is definitely going to be what takes us to the next level — how they do on the mound together,” said Goddard, who also has junior Cora Hooker as a new pitcher. “The team below them has good speed and good hitting. I think they can rely a little bit more on the defense. They can feel a little more relaxed because they should have good support behind them.”

Neither of the two pitchers is dwelling on their increased role this season. They’re focused on pitching and not thinking about being the only seniors on the club. The Vikings have just five other players back — all juniors.

“I feel (pressure) a little if I think about it,” Akers said. “I try not to think about it when I’m on the mound. That’s when I get all the mistakes. So I try not to, but when I’m not in the middle of the game, I definitely feel like everyone is looking up to us.”

As the preseason has progressed, the Vikings have already shown signs of growth. That has helped build trust on the team and has allowed Whitman and Akers to just pitch and let the defense support them. In addition to the pitchers, returning juniors like Erin Morton, Anna Piirainen Alyssa Morin, Hannah Kenney and Madison Leblond have helped this year’s version of the Vikings evolve.

“I know the fielders can field and we learned that in Florida,” Whitman said. “We can always push their limits. So I know they can do it. I’m trying to pitch and pitch well, but I trust the fielders. So I don’t feel that much pressure.”

Oxford Hills played seven games in Orlando at the Wide World of Sports Complex two weeks ago. It was a great tune-up for the season and opportunity for this young squad to get adjusted.

“The Florida trip helped because there was a lot of team bonding,” Goddard said. “There’s a lot of people that haven’t been with us before. It gave the pitchers time to be on the mound and be ready to go. We got to play some games, and it was good competition.”

Both Whitman and Akers have been on the trip before. As pitchers, it’s a great opportunity to get some innings in and prepare for the season in warmer weather.

“We went our freshman year too” Akers said. “You could tell from both times that there was a big difference from our sophomore and junior years when we didn’t go. We had more time to work with each other. I think having all that time was a big help.”

With five new faces and a number of players taking on new roles, it was a great opportunity for the Vikings to learn and grow as a team.

“I think it was good because we know our boundaries,” Whitman said. “We have got a few new players and we didn’t really know how they played, and it showed us what they can do.”

Whitman and Akers were the two pitchers on a Vikings team that went 11-6 overall last year and lost in the quarterfinals. Both worked hard in the offseason to prepare for their senior campaign.

“I feel like I have more confidence, and since last year, I have a better bond with my catchers, too,” Akers said. “That helps knowing you have someone that can catch anything. So you’re pretty open to throwing anything they call.”

The two often worked together with their pitching coach Bill Jurczak. They progressed together and lead an Oxford Hills team that has great potential this season. When Whitman isn’t pitching, she plays third. When Akers is in the field, she plays second or third.

“I have more confidence definitely,” Whitman said. “We kind of worked together during the winter and had the same pitching coach helping us. Mostly I worked on location and really getting my pitches down. I think that improved.”

Goddard says she’s seen growth in their experience and knowledge of the game. How they work together and support each other not only makes for an effective combination but demonstrates the kind of teamwork a young team needs.

“The good thing is that they’re both very accepting,” Goddard said. “If one comes out it’s not like, ‘Oh, she’s taking me out.’ One of them comes in and it’s like, ‘OK, it’s your turn now.’ They support each other on the mound and that’s really awesome.”

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