The downside to starting several underclassmen on any high school varsity team is the potential of a long, slow learning process.
The upside is that if the underclassmen are as talented as the ones on this year's Bethlehem softball team, the benefits could be felt in both the short and long term.
The Lady Eagles (5-3 overall) are off to a 2-2 start in the tough Suburban Council, with one of those two losses coming last Tuesday against five-time defending Section II, Class AA champion Shenendehowa in a game where both teams managed only one hit before Shen pulled out a 1-0 victory.
Bethlehem's promising start has been due in large part to a group of freshmen and sopho-mores who make up its starting infield.
I knew the girls were really talented, (but) not a lot of experience playing at the varsity level, said Bethlehem coach Karen Gentile. "So, I expected we'd have a good season and be in contention for Sectionals, but I also thought that we might have to go through a learning curve."
One player who is making a quick adjustment to the varsity level is freshman pitcher Toni Edwards. Besides limiting Shen's potent offense to one hit, Edwards has had several more quality starts including a combined two-hitter with Kat Rice in last Thursday's 7-0 victory over Ballston Spa.
"She definitely has talent," said Gentile. "She also has some learning to do but it shows that if she can (hold Shen to one hit) in her freshman year, the sky's the limit for her."
The offense hasn't been as consistent as the pitching, but if the Lady Eagles have more games like the one they did against Ballston Spa " an eight-hit effort that included home runs from third baseman Meghan Burns and centerfielder Amy Halvorsen " they could give more Suburban Council teams fits.
"We're starting to come out of (a batting slump)," said Gentile. "We had some good hits against Ballston Spa."
Bethlehem still has some tough opponents on its schedule including games against Colonie Wednesday and Guilderland Friday. But, the Lady Eagles won't use that as an excuse if they don't reach the eight league wins they need to make Sectionals.
"This team doesn't expect to win eight games " they want to win everything," said Gentile. "The goal for us is to win as many games as possible.""