NORTH STONINGTON — Wheeler High softball coach Joe Cawley was disappointed when Raven Houck did not make Class S All-State last season as a freshman.
Houck produced batting stats that a men’s slow-pitch hitter would be proud of with a .568 batting average (42 for 74), 27 runs scored, 21 RBIs, eight doubles and five homers.
But after producing a similarly impressive encore as a sophomore this season with a .488 average (41 for 84), 27 runs, 16 RBIs, eight doubles, four triples and three homers, Houck could not be denied. The sophomore catcher made the Class S All-State 22-player team.
“After watching her hit as a freshman, I said I’d put her batting ability up against anyone in the state from Class LL, L or Class M,” Cawley said. “Nothing has changed. She consistently puts her bat on the ball and hits hard line drives all the time. She has such a sweet, compact swing and is very strong despite her size. The second she steps into a field with a fence, she becomes a home run threat.”
Houck batted leadoff this season, igniting the Lions to one of the program’s best season ever. Wheeler won its first ECC division title, winning the Small with a 10-0 mark. The Lions’ 16-6 overall record marked their most regular-season wins in more than 30 years. Reaching the Class S quarterfinals this season was the Lions’ best postseason showing since the 1985 squad lost in the semifinals.
Cawley said Houck could hit in any key lineup spot but he preferred batting her leadoff.
“She is the main reason why we got out to many early leads,” he said.
While Cawley said Houck has a future as a college middle infielder, he used her at catcher to take advantage of her strong glove skills to handle Wheeler’s fast pitching: All-State pick Summer Cipriani in 2013 and Jenn Paride this season.
“Second base or shortstop are her natural positions because she is a great athlete and very nimble, despite being strong at 5-foot-5 or 5-6,” Cawley said. “I appreciate her catching now for the good of the team, but she’s getting a lot of interest from premier travel teams and is undoubtedly a Division I college prospect.”
Houck and Paride, a junior, made the 11-player ECC-Small first team — Houck as the only catcher and Paride as one of two pitchers.
After transferring from Stonington High in 2013, Paride developed into an overpowering ace pitcher (15-5 record, 0.94 ERA) and strong No. 3 batter (.322 average, 16 RBIs). The right-hander dominated ECC-Small competition, hurling 43 and 1/3 innings of scoreless ball in one stretch. She finished with 213 strikeouts, 32 walks and 76 hits allowed in 134 innings.
“I was nervous after Summer graduated,” Cawley said. “I was concerned if we could compete as we had while reaching the Class S quarters in 2012 and the states in 2013. I knew Jenn was good before she started here, but I had no clue she’d be this good. It didn’t take long, like our first game against Morgan, to realize we had a chance to do special things with Jenn on the mound.”
Paride hit .375 as an designated hitter/first baseman for Stonington as a sophomore but only pitched five innings in a crowded Bear mound situation. Cawley, though, was aware of Paride’s summer pitching prowess on club teams.
“I heard she pitched three games a day at times, so carrying the load as she did for us wasn’t something that was brand new to her,” Cawley said. “Her control was the key. Despite her overpowering stuff, she didn’t issue many free passes and made teams in our division swing the bat. After our first time through the division with Jenn, I knew we had a chance to run the table.”
Wheeler junior first baseman Kylie Baker made ECC-Small honorable mention as one of 11 players selected after batting .369 with team highs in RBIs (29) and home runs (four).
Cawley felt Baker produced the type of season that merited first-team honors. Baker batted fourth and provided ample protection for Houck and Paride in the lineup.
Baker is a repeat honorable mention pick after making it as a sophomore.
Lion senior Jess Morgan made the ECC Sportsmanship team. Each school gets one selection.