'Cats hope to `win the last one'.


Byline: Rich Garven


The Gardner High softball team plans to take it one game at a time this season - all the way, it hopes, to the season's final game.

The Wildcats defeated Shepherd Hill, 3-0, to win their second Central Mass. Division 1 championship in three years in June. Then they edged a very good Westfield squad, 1-0, before concluding a 20-6 campaign with a 6-0 loss to Taunton in the state final.

Gardner made its remarkable run - it opened the season with three losses - with a roster that had two seniors, only one of whom started. With so many talented players returning it's easy to understand why the black and orange have blue-ribbon expectations.

"Everyone is really excited," said catcher Jocelyn Goodale, a senior captain. "We were excited at the beginning of the (school) year."

With that in mind, the Wildcats are sporting baseball-style T-shirts designed by Goodale. The orange lettering on the front reads: Win the Last One.

"I think that speaks volumes about where the girls want to be on the last day of the season," said Howie Klash, who has been coaching the Wildcats since 1985.

Getting too far ahead of oneself generally isn't advisable in athletics. Klash, though, is OK with letting his kids dream of winning it all three months from now at Rockwood Field in Worcester.

He draws his confidence from a series of quiet bus rides during last year's wild playoff run. The fifth-seeded Wildcats recorded road wins over No. 4 Leominster, No. 1 Shrewsbury, No. 3 Shepherd Hill and Western Mass. champion Westfield, but you'd never have known it on the trip home.

"They were subdued types of bus rides," Klash said. "You'd think there would have been a lot of noise. But the girls knew every game they won meant there was another game to be won."

The Wildcats will, weather permitting, open the season April 9 at home against Shrewsbury. That's the first challenge in a rugged non-league schedule that also includes Leominster, Holy Name, St. Peter-Marian, Notre Dame Academy, North Middlesex, Acton-Boxboro, and Western Mass. Division 3 champ Turners Falls. Whew.

Those teams, all of whom made the playoffs, were a combined 114-45 in the regular season a year ago. Add in a possible meeting with defending Division 2 state champion Hudson in the Hudson Tournament and 10 league games in the Mid-Wach B, which came within a win of sending five of its members to the playoffs, and there doesn't appear to be any easy outs.


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