By Paul Augeri

Thanks to its rival just up Route 66, Portland High softball players won’t be left out in the cold this spring.

East Hampton and Portland will compete this season as a cooperative squad, providing a season after all for the handful of Highlanders wanting to play.

According to acting Portland athletic director Joe Santavenere, about 10 players signed up for the team in March. On the day of the Highlanders’ first scheduled workout, only five turned out.

“We knew we were cutting it close at the time of the sign-up, and we tried to recruit in the school,” said Santavenere. “It’s the same thing in the middle school. Numbers are low there, too.”

School officials reached out to East Hampton athletic director Shaun Russell to gauge whether East Hampton had roster room and uniforms for Portland’s players.

“East Hampton did a lot on their end to make this happen, so we appreciate that,” Santavenere said. “Geographically, this makes sense being border schools.”

The five from Portland, four juniors and a freshman, already have made an impact. East Hampton, which has seen an uptick in numbers this spring, now has enough to field a junior varsity team, something it hasn’t had for several years, head coach Erin Jump said Friday.

“I’m really excited about that, that the younger guys will get experience and just be able to play,” said Jump, whose fourth season as coach begins with Saturday’s season opener at Morgan. “It’s really good to get these kids out there, especially since they’ve missed all of last year (because of the pandemic). Being outside is good for everybody. Everyone was in good spirits and they came ready to practice.”

“We are expecting that we will be pretty competitive with the teams that we’ve had a very hard time with the last few years,” Jump added. “Our program has struggled the last few years with 10, 11, maybe 12 kids. It’s nice to have so many that want to play, with the addition of five more that want to play. I feel like we’re going to do well.”

The partnership is just for this spring, Santavenere said, but if low interest persists at Portland, he said a longer-term solution to keep softball alive at the school would have to be considered. The Highlanders were challenged with roster depth two years ago when they finished 5-15.

“I think the girls are thrilled,” he said. “We had a handful of pretty talented players who were starting to think they would not get the chance to play. This worked out really nicely. They’ll have a chance to play and compete and I think they are pumped up about it.”

Portland will share some of the costs for the season. Ashley Pietraroia, who would have been Portland’s head coach, and her assistant will have to-be-determined roles on Jump’s staff.

Santavenere said school officials also appreciated the CIAC fast-tracking its approval of the agreement between the schools.

“Usually you apply months in advance in a normal year for something like this,” he said. “They were good about getting this through in a non-normal year.”

At East Hampton on Friday, two of the Portland Five were on hand to take part in their first practice with their new teammates.

“This being a last-minute thing, everyone met each other and meshed well,” Jump said. “I think we’re all going to work together. I honestly think we’ll have to work as one cohesive unit in order to be successful with everybody. Think we’ll work together on everything.”

“I just feel bad that this sport is having a dip (in participation) right now,” she added. “But to help out a team of girls that want to play, even though they have to travel to be here, I’m happy to have them at whatever level.”

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