May 22—Cassie Woods is a noisemaker from her leadoff spot in the Eastern Connecticut State University softball lineup.
Her potent aluminum bat regularly delivers ringing hits.
A graduate transfer from Mystic, she also announces her presence in another way.
“I’m loud,” Woods said. “I have a lot of sass and fire, I guess. The leadoff hitter, you’ve got to set the tone and tell them what’s up.”
What’s up this season is Woods’ batting average (.551), which ranks first in the Little East Conference. She’s first on the team in runs scored and on-base percentage despite missing the last eight regular season games after testing positive for COVID-19.
Watching her Eastern teammates play while isolating for 15 days in her off-campus house didn’t sit well with Woods, a former Fitch High School standout. At least a teammate, who also tested positive, was with her.
“It was so awful,” Woods said. “My team was playing so we were watching them online on the livestream. It was so terrible. I was so emotional. It was like the worst experience of my life. … I threw a phone one time when one of my teammates hit a home run because I was so excited.”
Woods, who dealt with only mild COVID-19 symptoms, was a bit rusty when she returned to the lineup in time to help the Warriors capture the Little East Conference tournament title and earn a bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.
Eastern entered the Bangor Regional in Maine on Friday with a 30-2 mark and ranked sixth in the nation. The fourth-seeded Warriors lost 10-9 to Brandeis, the third seed, in the first round of the Bangor Regional in Maine to fall into the losers’ bracket. Wood was 1-for-3.
She is making her first postseason trip since her high school days when she won two state titles at Fitch. Keene State College, where she played three seasons and earned her undergraduate degree, never qualified for the Little East Conference tournament during her time there.
Prior to attending Keene State, she spent one semester at Southern Connecticut State University but left school after injuring her back while weightlifting and having surgery.
Woods had connections to the Eastern program prior to transferring there. Her former Fitch High School coach, Arielle Cooper, had an All-American career competing for the Warriors. She asked Cooper to talk to Eastern coach Diana Pepin about joining the team.
Pepin had an opening for a center fielder, Woods’ position.
“I’ve always known coach Pepin and (assistant) coach Mark Correia and I just always have wanted to play for them…,” Woods said. “Everything just aligned perfectly and coach Pepin took me. And now we’re really close and we have a good relationship, which I like.”
From the first game on March 11, Woods has ignited the Eastern attack. She opened the season with an 18-game hitting streak. She’s had a hit in all but two of her 24 games. She also has a home run and 17 RBI.
Woods was selected to the All-Little East and All-New England region first teams.
She attributes her success to her teammates, coaches and the program’s culture.
“My team is just so good and so competitive,” Woods said. “And our practices are so productive and hard. Everyone is so dedicated. I’m in such a good and positive environment and I just go up there confident. … The overall environment here, it’s just a privilege to be a part of and I just want to do well for my teammates and for my coaches.”
“When we played them (while at Keene), I could see how dedicated they were and supportive of each other. But not until I joined the team and moved in with my roommates, who are my teammates, did I understand how awesome everyone was.”
Eastern has a chance to do something special during the postseason.
The Warriors have championship level depth and talent, with the majority of the players on the roster coming from the state of Connecticut.
“We all just came together this year,” Woods said. “Our roster is full of state champions and Connecticut all-staters. It’s people that want to win. It’s just the perfect storm, it really is. And it starts with the coaches. They’re just phenomenal.”
Woods, who is working on her master’s degree in accounting and tentatively plans on going to law school, is already looking forward to returning to play again next season. She’s considering joining the National Guard to help pay for law school.
First, Woods and her teammates have some business to take care of in the NCAA tournament. She says this is the best team she’s ever been a part of during her softball career.
She’s grown close to her teammates in just one season on the team.
“Not only do we care on the field, but we all just genuinely love each other and want the best for each other,” Woods said. “It’s like a family. It’s pretty cute, honestly.”