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Mustangs, Rebels look to continue winning ways on softball diamond

By Tim Morris

Marlboro

Things finally came together for the Marlboro High School softball team in 2015.

After making steady progress under the guidance of head coach Nick Scalzo over the previous few years, the Mustangs enjoyed a breakout season. They set a school single-season record for wins (16-7) and scored signature playoff wins in the Shore Conference Tournament and NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV playoffs. They ranked among the top 10 teams in the conference for the first time.

The Mustangs were young last year and return several key starters, including veteran outfield Bonnie Picone, outfielder Macie Ditillo and infielder Phoebe Li, who are coming off huge offensive seasons.

Picone became the first Mustang to reach 100 career hits last season. She led the team in runs scored and had 19 RBIs while batting .487 with 10 doubles, four triples and a home run among her 39 hits.

Ditillo, a junior, led Marlboro in batting average (.494), hits (42) and RBIs (21). She scored 21 times and had five doubles and a triple. A great contact hitter, she struck out just twice in 85 at-bats.

With Picone in center field and Ditillo in right field, the Mustangs have an outstanding defensive outfield that covers a lot of ground.

Li, a junior, batted .415 and scored 31 runs while rapping out 34 hits. A great glove at second base, she makes the defense strong up the middle along with catcher Alex DiGrande.

DiGrande is one of the eight juniors who make up the nucleus of the club. Along with her defensive contributions, her batting average was around .400 last year.

Outfielder Jenna Pargament and infielder Lindsey Fhima, both juniors, have home run power.

In the circle, the Mustangs have Fhima and her under-2.00 ERA back along with Kaleigh Oplinger.

Completing the 2016 Mustangs are seniors Jessica Zwerein (infield) and Jennifer Frometa (infield/outfield); juniors Elyse Shaprio (infield/outfield) and Megan Steinberg (infield); sophomores Veronica Lomangino (pitcher/infield), Isabella O’Hare (infield), Danica Stern (infield/pitcher) and Brianna Lenza (pitcher); and freshmen Jessica Rantinella (outfield) and Jody Thomas (infield).

“Losing one senior last year coming off a 16-win season, we are looking to compete in the A North [Division] and qualify and compete in both the Shore Conference and state tournament play,” Scalzo said. “We have eight returning starters and hope to continue to be solid in the field and at the plate, and [we are] looking for newcomers freshman Jody Thomas to have a big impact at the plate and junior Elyse Shapiro to make an impact for us this year as well in the outfield [and] infield. Kaleigh Oplinger returns in the circle, and we are looking for her to have a solid year and keep us in every game”

As Scalzo noted, Marlboro looks to continue on the upward curb this spring and challenge for championships while remaining one of the Shore’s best teams.

Howell

That is what Howell High School has been the last several years with a Central Jersey, Group IV title and A North Division championships to show for it.

Coach Tricia Savino’s Rebels were 13-9 a year ago and reached the state sectional quarterfinals. They have two of the best players in the Shore in seniors Vivian Montgomery and Paige Eckert.

Montgomery, a senior catcher, had a season for the record books, leading the Shore in batting with a .609 average. Her on-base percentage was an eye-popping .657, as she had 39 hits — 14 of them doubles — and drove in 18 runs. She will be at the United States Military Academy in the fall.

Eckert, who plays second base and is also a senior, had a very productive 2015 as well. She batted .415 with a .593 on-base percentage, 32 hits, 15 doubles, two home runs, 14 RBIs and 24 runs scored.

The Rebels are also set in the circle with senior Alexis Ruiz, who won all 13 of the Rebels’ games last spring and permitted fewer than one hit an inning.

Also returning for Howell are senior Bridget Coulahan (outfield); juniors Haylie Barnes (outfield), Linda Rizzo (pitcher/utility), Taylor Gatti (utility) and Megan Darrah (outfield); sophomores Cassiday Predale (infield/pitcher), Mackenzie Vogler (infield), Lauren Ordemann (utility) and Jessica Hartman (designated player).

The team’s key newcomers are sophomores Hailey Polisano (infield/outfield) and Stephanie Maxson (shortstop).

Howell figures to be in the A North chase again this spring and a dangerous postseason team.

Perennial A North champion Middletown High School South and last year’s co-champion, Middletown High School North, are the teams Marlboro and Howell are looking to overtake this spring.

Freehold Township

At Freehold Township High School, Kate Kuzma has a team that will be a work in progress.

“We are a very young team looking to build each and every day,” she said.

The Patriots are led by senior infielder Nicole Baptista, who batted .473 and scored 24 runs. She slammed three home runs among her 35 base hits, and she had 13 RBIs.

Pitcher Renee Marcinczuk and first baseman/outfielder Elissa Masin are the only other seniors on this young Patriots team.

Also returning are juniors Kayla Butkus (outfield) and Taylor Tobey (outfield) and sophomores Kayla Pscolka (infield) and Heather Lally (catcher).

The 2016 Patriots look to five freshmen to make contributions with the goal of reaching the state playoffs again. They are Sydney Rathsmith (infield), Kayla Loges (pitcher), Kiersten Withstandley (infield), Lauren Anderson (utility) and Stephanie Delandro (infield).

Manalapan

Manalapan High School, a state qualifier last spring, has its top run producer, Kristen Ruggiero, back to do more damage at the plate.

The senior batted .415 last year and 13 of her 27 hits were for extra bases (10 doubles, three home runs). She scored 27 times and drove in 20 runs.

Seniors Rachel Hrevnak (pitcher/infield), Brianna Spierto (outfield) and Nicole Moorman (outfield) are the core of the club along with Ruggiero. Juniors Jen Coppola (catcher/infield) and Lauren Silva (outfield) are returnees as well.

Also on the roster are junior Kelly Wall; sophomores Julia Cafaro, Nicolette Jomo and Ashley Tulko; and freshman Vienna Chierchia.

Freehold

Freehold High School has one of the best players in the Shore Conference in senior infielder Skylar Devorin. She batted .457 in 2015 with an on-base percentage of .545. She scored 14 times and had 11 RBIs.

Colts Neck

Head coach Julie Saporito-Acuna has a very young team at Colts Neck High School with seven sophomores and two freshmen on the roster. Over the summer in the Wall League, Saprito-Acuna went back to the basics, stressing small ball — getting on base, bunting and putting pressure on defenses. The little things could turn the young Cougars into a playoff team.

For veteran experience and leadership, the Cougars look to seniors Jamie DiMario (outfield/infield), Natalie Farparan (catcher) and Angelica Galianese (outfield/infield). Junior utility player and infielder Olivia Hankash can also provide experience.

Completing the team are sophomores Erica Attanasio (infield/outfield), Briana Clementi (infield), Catherine Grillo (infield/outfield), Felicia Kuegler (shortstop), Payton Mahoney (outfield/infield), Olivia Sardoff (pitcher/catcher/utility) and Olivia Terlizzi (pitcher/infield) and freshmen Mya Mancini (outfield/infield) and Kaitlyn Pierce (pitcher/outfield/infield).

The Cougars play in the B North Division.

The softball season begins April 1 with Marlboro opening at Holmdel High School, Howell traveling to Manalapan, Freehold Township visiting Middletown South and Freehold hosting Middletown North. Colts Neck waits until April 4 to play its opener at Neptune High School.

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