Cheshire High School senior Gracie Hemstock doesn’t have to look far to find the inspiration for her softball career. While playing for the Rams and Cheshire Wildcats travel program, she has looked up to her older sister Lexie as a player and friend.
A 2019 CHS graduate, Lexie Hemstock was a four-year starting outfielder for CHS and contributed to the softball program’s first unbeaten season (27-0) and Class LL crown in 2016. As a field hockey goalkeeper, she also set the single-season shutout mark (19) as a senior.
“Lexie has been my best friend since forever,” explained Hemstock. “She is focused in everything she does. Lexie is the one of the nicest people I know and someone who I aspire to be one day.”
While only getting to share the softball diamond with her older sister for two years at CHS, Hemstock has found a way for them to reunite in college. By choosing to attend Western New England University (Massachusetts), Gracie will become teammates with Lexie, who competes in softball and field hockey at the school.
“I’m so excited,” said Hemstock. “When I was an underclassman, I didn’t know where I was going to go, but watching Lexie grow up and wanting to be like her, it made sense to go to the same school.”
“It is special to be able to play at the next level with your sister,” stated CHS Head Coach Kristine Drust. “Is there anything better than that,?”
A Division III program, WNE plays for Amanda Novak in the Commonwealth Coast Conference.
“As a sophomore, I went to a (softball) camp there and fell in love with the staff,” Hemstock reflected.
She looked at Roger Williams University (Rhode Island), Westfield State University (Massachusetts), Eastern Connecticut State University, and the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, but her family connections was key to choosing WNE.
“She (my sister) was really excited when I told her the news,” said Hemstock. “When I was down to Western New England and Eastern Connecticut, she wanted it to be Western, but didn’t want to make the choice for me.”
Hemstock has already made several trips to WNE to watch her sister play games. As a freshman in 2019, Lexie was the starting goalkeeper for the field hockey team. For the softball program in 2020, she batted .429 before her season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was great to see her play so well,” recalled Hemstock. “My sister has let me sleep over at the school a couple of times, so I’ve seen a lot of the campus.”
In joining her sister for the 2022 season, Hemstock is happy that her parents can see them play on the same field again.
“My family is my biggest support system,” said Hemstock. “No matter what school I chose, they would have been happy for me. My parents would do anything to help my sister and I play the sport that we love.”
Along with looking forward to her college opportunity, Hemstock is happy for her Cheshire teammates who’ve decided to play at the next level. Captain Bri Pearson (Adelphi University) and Trinadey Santiago (American International College-Massachusetts) will compete for rival teams in D-II. Senior Ella Watson will play at Fairfield University, while Danielle Floyd has chosen to extend her career at Johnson & Wales University (Rhode Island).
“I’m so proud of all of them. They are great students and have committed to really good schools,” stated Hemstock. “I want to make sure that I prioritize my academics (at WNE). My major will be social work, so I’m excited to get into that in college.”
For Hemstock, her softball career is a story of progression. She picked up T-ball at age 6 and then played recreationally before joining the Wildcats.
“I didn’t like softball at first. My mom, dad, and sister all tried to push me to play,” recalled Hemstock, who also swam growing up. “When I was 10, I fell in love with softball on my travel team.”
She didn’t play with her sister until joining the CHS program as a freshman in 2018.
“That was really exciting because I didn’t feel alone,” reflected Hemstock. “I had also played with a lot of the other girls through Wildcats, so I didn’t need to be too nervous.”
As a sophomore, Hemstock opened the season as a starting infielder. The 2019 Rams captured a third straight Hammonasset Division title and advanced to the Class LL semifinals for the fifth consecutive year.
In the Southern Connecticut Conference title game, Cheshire came from behind to win 3-2 over North Haven in eight innings.
“It was so exciting. I didn’t play in that game, but I have never screamed so loud,” Hemstock recalled. “(Assistant) Coach J (Jaymie Sommers) hyped us up in the huddles. We all had to be ready for the next play.”
Hemstock feels that it has been a dream to play for Sommers and Drust.
“We have one of the best coaching staffs ever,” stated Hemstock. “I talk with Coach Drust a lot on FaceTime and she helps me with my life and self-confidence.”
Hemstock wanted to be around her coaches last year, but due to COVID-19, the Rams had their spring season canceled.
“It was really tough since we all have so much passion for the game,” stated Hemstock. “We still had two Zoom calls a week and did activities and videos with each other. Even though we couldn’t see each other, we wanted to work together.”
When COVID-19 restrictions were scaled back last summer, Hemstock was happy to get back on the field to play for the Wildcats.
“It was great to be back in the box and see live pitching again with my teammates,” recalled Hemstock. “A lot of the girls thought that it would be tough to wear masks, but we have done it so much now. There were some 100-degree days over the summer, but it wasn’t as bad as some people thought it was going to be.”
Hemstock added that she is willing to wear a mask to have the chance to play for CHS in the spring.
“I want to play with these girls so bad,” said Hemstock, who has been working out in the off-season. “As seniors, we want to take this last year and have fun while we still can.”
After having a Hemstock sister on her team for the last six years, Drust feels that it will emotional to see the family finish up this year.
“You need support at the high school level to make you stronger as a program. Cherie (Hemstock) is willing to step forward and tackle anything you need,” explained Drust. “Gracie has been around our program for a long time. She understands what our expectations are built on and we are looking for her to come back strong this year.”