HomeHillsborough BeaconHillsborough SportsHILLSBOROUGH: Raider softball team reloading, start season Friday

HILLSBOROUGH: Raider softball team reloading, start season Friday

By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group
The Hillsborough High School will have a younger look this year, but the Raiders have made a habit of reloading, not rebuilding, with less experienced players.
Hillsborough was 20-4 last year and reached the Somerset County Tournament final. The Raiders are hoping that they can get back to win it and add a state tournament run. There is a long road ahead for the traditional power.
“We’re a good team,” said Hillsborough head coach Cheryl Iaione. “That doesn’t mean we’ll be 15-0. We could be 8-7. It’s going to take time to gel. The group has to gel together. They have to learn our style as coaches. You’re force-feeding a lot of information. It’s a lot to absorb.”
The Raiders return their top pitcher, Katie Gademsky, the senior who has two years of regular starting experience in the circle.
The offense is keyed by another senior, Nicole Wishard. The other three seniors are Tori Ciallella, Julia Gessner and Carly Vadinsky. Juniors are Julia Colavita, Alex Penna, Alissa Saverino and Nikita Solanki. Sophomores are Lauren Caruso, Grace Cofino and Kelsey Galevich. The freshmen are Julia Kwiatek, Karlie Manco, Delaney Smith and Olivia Warner.
“We’re very young,” Iaione said. “It’s hard to tell how we’ll do. We held our own in scrimmages. The teams we lost to were teams we should have lost to. We were 6-2. We were very competitive.”
The Raiders open the season Friday when they host Watchung Hills in a rematch of last year’s SCT final. It is a challenging opener, and Hillsborough has a different look this year after several veteran players graduated.
“It’s the experience we have to replace,” Iaione said. “It’s invaluable. I have four freshmen on the varsity. It’s a lot of inexperience.”
More than she can remember in a long time. She is confident that they can help.
“It’s unfamiliar territory for me,” Iaione said of the inexperience. “They’re all good players. They wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think they could play.”
Iaione will spend the early portion of the season figuring out how to build the best lineup for her team. It could change a lot over the course of the year. She will be leaning on the seniors for leadership, particularly in the early going.
“I’m still not sure of a lot of things right now because I haven’t seen enough,” Iaione said. “It’s going to take some time. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s trial by error.”
Gademsky will get some time off in the circle when the Raiders use Kwiatek to pitch. Pitching is an integral part of any softball team’s success.
“In the conference, everybody is returning their pitchers,” Iaione said. “In the area, most people are returning their starters, including myself. We have a returning pitcher who’s done a pretty darn good job the last two years. I anticipate her being what she’s been, but she can’t pitch every inning of every game.”
The Raiders didn’t get a big sample size in the preseason, but they have shown promise. If they can sustain those stretches and build on them through the season, they will be in position to be a title contender. They have solid pitching and their hitting has traditionally been strong.
“We have our moments,” Iaione said. “We can be better. We will be better. A lot of the new ones are learning how we want it done, and they’re making changes and adjustments. Depending on whom we face, as pitchers, some of the pitchers are very experienced. I think the best way to do it is it keep it low key and don’t have any expectations and go out and do it. Once we figure out who we are and how we are, the expectations will come.”
The Raiders also have good speed and can be aggressive on the base paths, as well as use their speed defensively. They will be able to see what each player can contribute during another challenging schedule. They will play in the Essex County Coaches Challenge at Seton Hall. They will also be going up to Mt. St. Dominic to play a team from Staten Island.
“We’re not backing down the schedule,” Iaione said. “Every game is going to help us grow as a team and as players.”
With a mix of youth and experience, the Raiders will be looking to see how they can best be effective. There is talent on the roster, and Hillsborough is hoping it will lead to another big season.
“What I start Friday could be totally different from what I start at the end of the season,” Iaione said. “There’s so many questions unanswered. There’s so much to figure out. It’s kind of fun. They’re a great group of kids and they’re working hard every day. We’re just going to have to figure it out together.” 

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