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Saugus' Alanna Layton and Karlee Bickford: Battery still charged

Centurions were hit hard by graduation, but its starting pitcher and catcher are ready to lead

Posted: April 10, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 10, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Saugus catcher Karlee Bickford, left, and pitcher Alanna Layton return to a Centurions team that lost 12 players off last season’s championship squad. It will be up to the duo to lead them back.

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“It’s like my comfort zone,” says Saugus senior catcher Karlee Bickford of the softball field.

It’s the place where Bickford and Saugus starting pitcher Alanna Layton joined their teammates in snapping Valencia’s streak of 10 consecutive Foothill League titles last season.

But it’s also a place that looked very different when the duo started to prepare for 2012.

With 12 players graduating last year, Bickford and Layton are the only two Centurions starting in the same positions they played on that championship team.

“At the time, me and Karlee felt pretty alone,” Layton says of losing so many teammates.

As a result, most people — including many of the graduating seniors — wrote Saugus off.

“Everyone pretty much talked us down before they left,” Layton says. “When they left, they were all saying we weren’t going to do good (this season). It got in your head.”

But the duo remained optimistic, spending time watching the JV team last season and learning about their soon-to-be new teammates.

“I never believed in the, ‘Oh, we’re done, so let’s lay down and be done,’” Layton says. “We’re definitely a team that’s going to keep fighting until the end.”

And so far, that determination is paying off — with the battery of Layton and Bickford right at the center of it all.

Saugus enters league play with an 11-3 overall record, including a 9-1 victory over one of the league’s preseason favorites, West Ranch.

“They’ve held our team together, and they’re the leaders on this team right now,” says Saugus head coach Julie Watson. “And having the other girls see both of their work ethics and their constant drive to get better, it’s helped the younger ones come in and pick up the role.”

After spending some time in the circle last season, Layton is shining in her first opportunity as the primary pitcher.

Overshadowed by some of the bigger names in the Foothill League, Layton has improved her consistency on the mound and has shown an ability to win games for Saugus against high-level competition.

In 52.1 innings pitched, Layton has allowed nine earned runs and has a 1.20 ERA.

“She has come a long way over her three years so far. I think everyone will be pretty surprised,” Bickford says. “I always knew she was a really good pitcher, but she used to be kind of wild. But now, she’s really consistent and the presence on the mound she has is amazing. You can tell she wants to be in the game and wants to be in that circle.”

And the same thing can be said about the girl catching Layton’s pitches.

On a squad that has had issues with team unity in the past, Bickford has become a coach on the field, there to lift up the younger girls still learning how to compete at the varsity level.

“She has great communication on the field with everybody. Everybody on the team respects her, and she’s willing to help other kids out in any way,” Watson says. “But when she’s in that control spot, they listen to her and respect her. She’s very quick behind the team and she’s a quick thinker.”

And having a returning senior behind the plate has been a lifeline for a Saugus team that was expected to struggle in the experience department.

“It really helps (having familiarity with your catcher),” Layton says. “It helps when they know what you throw and how those pitches move. She’s able to frame things a lot better, it’s very important.”

The duo is making its presence felt at the plate as well.

Bickford, one of only three seniors on the team, is batting .382 this year with 11 RBIs and four doubles.

And the junior pitcher Layton is hitting .513 with 16 RBIs and five home runs.

“If you are doing bad pitching you can make it up with the bat,” Layton says. “Pitchers that can’t hit, if you’re doing bad pitching, what else do you have? I like being able to go out with the bat and help myself out. It takes more time because you have to hit and pitch every day. But I love hitting, and I would never give it up for pitching. And I love pitching, and I would never give it up for hitting.”

And while they’ve started to open some eyes, there’s still plenty of work left to do.

As successful as the first half of the season has been, the two will need to continue leading the team through the always-difficult Foothill League schedule.

“They’re going to have a lot to do with our success during league,” Watson says. “I have a good feeling about them.”

They’ll be tested early when they travel to face an offensively potent Hart team at 7 p.m. today at the Hart softball complex.

It will be the first of many tests the Saugus duo is excited to take on.

“I did feel (disrespected),” Bickford says. “It’s kind of like, I don’t know, (the former players) did disrespect us saying, ‘You won’t be that good,’ where we actually are. I want to prove everyone wrong.”

So far, that’s exactly what they’re doing — proving people wrong on the softball field — where they’ve never been more comfortable.

661-287-5530

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