By Tim Morris
It’s just two weeks into the softball season. However, Howell High School’s softball coach, Tricia Savino, has seen some very encouraging signs from the Rebels, who are off to a 3-1 start.
Savino said she sees similarities between these Rebels and the last two Howell championship teams — the 2011 NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV and 2014 Shore Conference A North Division champions. There is timely hitting and a senior ace pitcher.
“Early in the season, we have both with Alexis Ruiz leading the way on the mound,” Savino said.
Howell’s hitting this spring has been as prolific as it has been timely. The Rebels scored more than 10 runs in all of their wins and are averaging just under 13 runs a game. They’ve been getting production from everyone in the lineup.
“Vivian Montgomery, Paige Eckert and Bridget Coulahan are three-year starters who have carried the program,” the head coach said.
The seniors are playing better than ever in 2016 and leading the offensive attack. Coulahan is batting .533, Montgomery has a .529 average and Eckert is at .500. Montgomery has eight RBIs to lead the team.
The three seniors have not had to carry the offense. They’ve had plenty of support.
Outfielder Haylie Barnes, a junior, and sophomore Stephanie Maxson have been tearing it up at the plate.
Barnes leads the team with a hefty .643 batting average. She has seven RBIs and a team-high seven runs scored. Savino pointed out that Barnes has been flourishing since moving to the No. 2 spot in the batting order.
“[She] sees better pitches to hit now because of who is around her,” Savino said.
No one has made a more spectacular debut than shortstop Maxson, who hit three home runs in her varsity debut against Manalapan High School. She has since added a fourth and is batting .400 with seven RBIs.
Savino noted that Maxson was the leading junior varsity hitter last year.
“[She] waited her turn and took full advantage,” the coach said.
Maxson is not the only sophomore contributing in a big way. The Rebels have five sophomores starting.
“The youth of the program has lengthened our lineup,” Savino said.
MacKenzie Vogler, an outfielder who played only in the field last year, has hit two home runs already and is batting .467 with seven runs scored.
Lauren Ordemann split time between the varsity and junior varsity teams last year. As a full time designated player this spring, she is batting .429 with six runs scored.
Outfielder Haily Polisano was primarily a pinch runner in 2015. This year, she is batting .500 and has scored six runs.
First baseman Cassidy Predale is another sophomore who is playing an expanded role. She was the junior varsity pitcher in 2015, but she is such a good hitter it was hard to keep her out of the lineup. She’s batting .400.
In the circle, veteran Ruiz is giving Howell just what it needs: someone who will keep the Rebels in games by not making mistakes. Ruiz, who pitches for contact and lets Howell’s defense behind her make plays, doesn’t beat herself by issuing free passes. She throws strikes and stays ahead of batters.
Marlboro also contending in A North
Weather-permitting, Howell had a critical A North game with another division contender, Marlboro High School, April 12. Both teams have suffered one division loss already. Howell lost to defending co-champion Middletown High School North, 9-5, and Marlboro dropped a 2-0 game to the other co-champion, Middletown High School South.
Howell and Middletown South are 3-1 in A North, and Marlboro is 2-1. Middletown North has the lead heading into play this week at 3-0.
Marlboro, which is 3-1 overall, has been getting great pitching from Kayleigh Oplinger, who has allowed just five earned runs all year. She has 28 strikeouts in 25 innings and is allowing fewer than a hit an inning. It’s the kind of dominating performance a championship contender needs.
Alexandra DiGrande has matched Maxson’s power. The junior catcher has belted four home runs and has 11 RBIs while batting .538.
Junior outfielder Maci Ditillo has eight RBIs and eight runs scored is batting .429 with a home run, and Lindsey Fhima has scored a team-high nine runs while batting .364.
Howell will play Middletown South April 18 in Howell before starting the second half of the A North season at home against Manalapan April 20.
Following the scheduled Howell game, Marlboro is home to Freehold Township High School April 14 before taking on Middletown North April 18 in Middletown.
Marlboro begins the second half of the division season against Freehold High School April 21.