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As the Lely softball team enters the 2017 season, the Trojans’ biggest question mark lies with their pitching staff.

The Trojans graduated Becca Gates, the team’s ace and workhorse over the last three seasons.

Lely isn’t completely inexperienced on the pitching slab, with seniors Sivan Pilacios and April Alvarado each logging innings for the team last year. But both now will have expanded roles, as will freshman Sarah Leon.

“It could be pitching by committee at times,” Lely coach Rich Costante said. “The nice thing about our three pitchers is they throw the same pitches, but they each throw them completely different. There are times when I can give a team three completely different looks in one game.”

Alvarado, who hit .368 as the Trojans’ starting catcher last year, is confident Lely’s pitchers will get the job done.

“Coming into the season, pitching might not look like a strength, but we’re finding our way around it,” she said. “Our pitchers are getting better every time we throw and I think we’ll be pretty good as the season goes on.”

In addition to Gates, the Trojans also lost key offensive cogs Vany and Aly Palacios, who combined to hit over .400 with seven of the team’s 10 home runs last year.

“It might be a different looking offense this season,” Costante said. “We may not hit as many longballs, but I expect us to have very good gap-to-gap hitters. Home runs are nice, but sometimes we’ve gotten caught looking for that longball and hitting pop-ups instead. We need our girls to give us good at-bats and get on base consistently. That’s what we’re looking for each game, especially with the quality pitchers we’ll be facing.”

The Trojans should still have a strong offense, with four returning starters (Savannah Weiben, April Alvarado, Sivan Palacios, Lily Manning) who hit over .300 last year and another (Katie Moss) who hit .288. Lely also gets an influx of young talent this season to help make up for the graduated seniors, as Leon, Jasmine Walton and Bianca Palacios (Vany’s sister) each started the Trojans’ first game against St. John Neumann on Tuesday.

“We’re still learning how each of us plays the game, we just need to get back into it and come together as a team,” Alvarado said. “I think we’ll be a pretty solid team again this year.”

Lely went 17-11 last season and advanced to the regional playoffs as the district runner-up. With district champion Barron Collier returning everyone, the Trojans face a bit of an uphill battle in the district. But Costante likes what he’s seen from his squad in the early going.

“We’re looking much better than I thought we would when you consider the key players we lost from last year’s team,” Costante said. “Our pitchers are doing a really nice job, and I anticipate them getting better as the year goes on.”

Alvarado says she and her teammates enjoy playing for Costante, who has guided the Trojans to a 35-20 record in his two seasons at the helm. Lely won the Class 5A-District 12 district championship in 2015, before moving up to Class 6A last year.

“He pushes us to our limit and never lets us give up on ourselves,” Alvarado said. “He keeps pushing us, even when we think we can’t do it, he makes us believe we can do it. No matter the situation, he never gives up on us. He’s always there, making sure we’re doing our best.”

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