By Wayne Witkowski
Stellar pitcher and first baseman Abby Stroud is off to a college softball career at NCAA Division I Saint Joseph’s University, but the returning Allentown High School softball players have been ready to fill that void.
Stroud went down with an ankle injury seven games into last season and did not come back until near the end, and the players quickly adapted. The team finished 14-10 and in second place in the Colonial Valley Conference Patriot Division to Robbinsville High School. The Redbirds lost in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals and their state tournament opener to Hightstown High School last year.
Stroud, meanwhile, is batting .200 in eight games she played for St. Joseph’s.
“We have a pretty solid team,” second-year coach Kim Maurer said when assessing the Redbirds for their April 1 opener at home against Steinert High School.
The Redbirds play West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North the following morning and Lawrence High School at home at 4 p.m. April 4.
“Our defense is OK,” the coach said. “We have to work on that, but the offense is hitting pretty well. The pitching is all right.”
Kayla Peterson, a senior who did the bulk of the pitching last season, and sophomore Heather Devine are back on the mound, and four starters return to the positions they played last season, including sophomore Madison Storey, a sophomore who had some timely hits while playing at first base when Stroud pitched.
Senior Brianna McGowan is catching again this season, and sophomores Shae Dominici at second base and Sarina Campanella in center field have a year’s starting experience behind them.
As for the other positions, senior Alyssa Ariano is in right field, where starting shortstop Carly Bailey played last year, and freshman Grace Dawson and junior Damiana DelBagno are sharing time in left field. Third base is a tossup between freshman Alyssa Notarianni and sophomore Daria Zobro.
“They’re definitely enjoying themselves more on this team than in the past,” Maurer said. “Solid defense is going to be the key this season, with limited errors.”
Maurer said Robbinsville again is the toughest competitor in the division, and they collide April 20 at Robbinsville and again five days later in Allentown. The Redbirds hopes to regain the championships they last won in back-to-back seasons in 2012 and 2013.