Millis Battery Could Be Best in the Tri Valley League
Riley Caulfield, left, and Frankie Pizzarella are aiming for another tournament berth. Courtesy photo.
Pizzarella, Caulfield Key Cogs For
Mohawks’ Softball Team
By KEN HAMWEY
Staff Sports Writer
A battery is crucial to start a car and a good, strong battery is an essential ingredient for a softball team to be successful.
An adept catcher and a talented pitcher can make the difference and Millis High is fortunate to have a young tandem at those positions. Last year, as a sophomore, Frankie Pizzarella was dynamic in her role as the Mohawks’ catcher. And, Riley Caulfield displayed true grit on the mound as a freshman, pitching every game and helping Millis go 14-2 in the regular season before bowing out of the tournament after a third-round loss to West Bridgewater.
Both girls were Tri Valley League all-stars last year and both compiled some impressive statistics. Pizzarella hit .569, clouted 7 home runs, drove in 36 runs and stole 15 bases. She struck out only once, hit safely in 16 of 17 games and threw out nine runners stealing. Caulfield’s record was 16-3 (tourney included), her earned-run average was 4.64 and she struck out 113 batters and walked 57 in 128 innings.
RJ Maturo, who’s been the Mohawks’ coach for the last 10 years, labels his battery as “one of the best in our league.’’
What defines them is their strengths, and Maturo is quick to list them.
“Frankie is athletic, has a high softball IQ, hits for power, runs the bases well, has good arm strength and when she’s throwing the ball, her release time is great,’’ he emphasized. “She’s also very good at calming down a pitcher.’’
Caulfield gladly took the pitching reins when the cupboard was bare. “Riley is very coachable,’’ Maturo said. “She also is athletic and has a high softball IQ. She relies on a fastball, change-up and a drop. She’s definitely growing into the position.’’
Here’s an in-depth look at Millis’ all-star battery that’s focused on maintaining the Mohawks’ team chemistry and getting another opportunity to make a successful run in the playoffs.
So far, Millis has struggled early, posting a 1-2 record. Pizzarella started superbly at bat, compiling six hits and knocking in six runs in her first eight at-bats. She’s playing third base but will return to catching soon. “Frankie is battling through foot surgery but will catch at some point,’’ Maturo said. “She’s been a brick wall and already has 10 putouts. She’s great at smothering the ball and reading a bunt.’’
Caulfield is still striving to find the groove she was in last year. “Riley has struggled,’’ Maturo said. “She has to regain the mental toughness she displayed last year. She’ll bounce back.’’
A 5-foot-8 catcher, Pizzarella started playing softball as an eight-year-old. Add in another six years of club softball and it’s easy to understand why she’s so polished.
“The key to success for a catcher is to be vocal and to communicate,’’ she noted. “I’m the quarterback of our defense and it’s important to adjust and also to be patient. Directing the infielders is another key.’’
The 17-year-old is an aggressive competitor, whether she’s behind the plate or at bat. “I’ll go for the first pitch if it’s around the plate,’’ Pizzarella said. “I’m a contact hitter but I can hit for power. On defense, I’m aggressive throwing to second on a steal and I can crack a joke to settle down Riley if she’s having a control problem.’’
A native of Methuen, Pizzarella is mentally tough and resilient, able to overcome adversity quickly. An instinctive player, she’s acutely aware that improvement is a must for her to produce another quality season. “What I can improve on is my confidence level,’’ she said. “I can’t make decisions on what-ifs. Decisions have to be made on what I know works and what’s right.’’
Pizzarella’s goals this season are to create a solid bond, promote team chemistry and “have fun while we’re competing.’’ Tourney objectives are to qualify first, then go as deep as possible. “We’re a young team but all the girls are coachable and have talent,’’ she said. “And, they all take advice well.’’
The bonding that a pitcher and catcher have is crucial to their success and Pizzarella and Caulfield get high marks in that area.
“We both get along on and off the field,’’ Pizzarella said. “We’ve known each other since junior high and the chemistry we have on decision-making is good. It’s smooth. Riley’s assortment of pitches is fine and her control is consistent. If she’s having problems, I get her to focus on the moment and rely on her best pitches. I get an idea on how a pitcher’s demeanor will be before the game starts. Riley and I often talk about the opponent and I get a good feel of whether it’s going to be a good day.’’
Pizzarella says for Millis to succeed motivation is the key. “I’ll stress that to the younger players,’’ she offered. “If they observe upperclassmen who’ve got experience, then they’ll be eager for success.’’
A teammate Pizzarella believes will be a major contributor this year is sophomore Isabelle Jewett, who plays the infield and also can catch. “She’s motivated and very observant,’’ she said. “And, she’s able to elevate her teammates to be better.’’
Calling her coach a strong motivator, Pizzarella says: “RJ pushes us to our limits and that’s good. He knows the game and he’s effective with his strategy.’’
An honor student, Pizzarella hopes to attend the University of Connecticut and major in criminology.
It won’t take much detective work to conclude that Frankie Pizzarella is a Grade A softball player. Last year she hit two home runs in a game that Millis won.
That’s what makes her a multi-faceted all-star.
The 16-year-old Caulfield’s overall record of 16-3 last year after the playoffs concluded was quite a ride for a freshman but she’s aware that she’s got to improve and avoid what’s known as “the sophomore jinx.’’
“I’ve got to add more pitches to my assortment,’’ she noted. “I’m working on a curve and a riser. Another area to improve on is to get ahead on the count. That means staying relaxed and maintaining control. I also want to be a better hitter.’’
The 5-foot-7 right-hander likes having Pizzarella behind the plate.
“Frankie knows my strengths,’’ Caulfield said. “And, she knows when to come to the mound and calm me down. She’s good at making the moment light. Her instincts are excellent and if I walk a batter, I’m confident that if she tries to steal second, Frankie will throw her out.’’
Caulfield’s goals for 2022 mirror Pizzarella’s. She wants another tourney berth and she also wants to have fun while bonding and team chemistry are built and promoted. “It’s important that we’re a cohesive unit in all three phase of the game,’’ she emphasized. “We may be young but we were also young last year (only five seniors) and had success.’’
A native of Millis, Caulfield is optimistic that left fielder Kyra Rice will be a big plus for the Mohawks this year. “Kyra plays the outfield effectively,’’ she said. “We trust her to make plays there. A contact hitter, she gets on base often and uses her speed to steal bases.’’
Caulfield’s best game last year came against Hopkinton and it turned out to be a classic. It rates No. 1 because that victory ended Millis’ 20-year losing streak against Hopkinton.
“I didn’t strike out many hitters but I was focused,’’ Caulfield said. “I had no idea during the game that we had such a long losing streak against them. After the game, I was very excited to know what we achieved. I was proud of the team for getting the job done.’’
Calling her coach a “strong motivator’’ for getting the best out of his players, Caulfield said, “He’s always prepared.’’
An honor student like Pizzarella, Caulfield isn’t sure where she’ll attend college or what her major will be. She’s also undecided on what sport she’ll play. Caulfield is a three-sport athlete — basketball and soccer are what keeps her busy in the fall and winter months. “It’ll either be softball or soccer,’’ she said.
Caulfield is acutely aware that her success last year was linked to the Mohawks’ senior leadership that included captains Eryn Rice and Grace Jewett. And, she hasn’t forgotten the valuable advice she was able to absorb from those seniors.
“Any success I’ve had is because of all the people who’ve taught me and provided advice about this game,’’ she emphasized. “It’s the coaches, the senior leaders, and other teammates.’’
Caulfield then got specific about one teammate — her catcher, noting how much she appreciates Pizzarella’s knowledge, her approach and her advice.
Millis does indeed have a strong battery and it likely will again be a powerful component to keep the Mohawks’ engine running smoothly.