By Jimmy Allinder
When it comes to high school varsity athletes, most coaches strive for a balance where their players can have fun but understand the importance of winning.
J.P. Stevens High School softball coach, Krystle Petty, is no different, and it’s that philosophy that has made the Hawks successful in recent seasons and has them off to an impressive early start this season. The record is 4-0, but it’s who J.P. Stevens has beaten that leaves one to believe this is a team that should be considered one of the best in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC).
A season-opening 2-0 victory against South Brunswick High School is the Vikings’ (3-1) only loss, and that was followed by an equally strong 5-0 shutout over perennial power East Brunswick High School in what is the Bears’ lone defeat. Most recently, the Hawks registered an 8-3 victory over defending GMC Tournament champion, Sayreville War Memorial High School, April 8 and scored three runs in the last inning against Bishop George Ahr High School to defeat the Trojans, 5-4, the following day. A game scheduled with another outstanding conference team, Monroe Township High School, was rained out and has been rescheduled for April 21.
“I think athletes perform best when they are comfortable, confident and focused,” Petty said. “I try to create an environment that allows them to challenge each other, where they have respect for themselves, their teammates, their school, their opponents and the sport.”
There are multiple reasons why the Hawks are playing well early. For example, the majority of the group, which finished 16-7 and won the GMC Red Division with a 10-2 mark, is back — highlighted by the return to the circle of Ashley Lombardi, who enjoyed an outstanding freshman season. The sophomore has a 3-0 record and has averaged over seven strikeouts per outing.
Among the quality batters and players in the field are center fielder and leadoff hitter Kayla Smith (senior); senior catcher Rebecca DiSerio; senior second baseman and lefty slapper Gabby Young, who was named the team’s most valuable player a year ago; and senior left fielder Kelsey Shalonis.
Also, sophomore Amanda Leary plays right field, junior Brianna Zederbaum plays either first or third base, junior cleanup hitter Julie Siecinski is stationed at shortstop, and Chloe Ling and Brianna Miller are utility players. The top reserves are sophomore Alyssa Mido, who plays first base, and freshman Emily Tavares, who relieved Lombardi in the Bishop Ahr game and picked up the victory.
J.P. Stevens’ quest for another Red Division title continued this week when it hosted Piscataway Township High School April 11, which is followed by a visit to Old Bridge High School April 13. The week concludes with a return game against South Brunswick April 15 and a home game with Metuchen High School the next day.
J.P. Stevens’ crosstown rival, Edison High School, is experiencing the opposite kind of season and is off to an 0-3 start. Plain and simple, pitching, or the lack of it, has plagued the Eagles.
In their three losses, 44 runs have been scored by the opposition, which is difficult for any team to overcome. Still, Edison returns a number of starters and hopes to turn around the season.
Last year’s most valuable player, senior tri-captain Nikki Gresh, batted .460 and drove in 14 runs, while junior Bianca Newsom hit .386 and stole 17 bases. Another senior tri-captain, Tatiana Yourstone, is a clutch hitter. Sophomore Tori Giordano crossed the plate 10 times and hit two triples, and senior Jenna Muller is a solid power hitter who plays a solid first base.
With the graduation of Laura Flynn, the pitching has been the responsibility of freshman Jessica Hoover, with junior Ashley Bienvenue seeing limited action. Others in the lineup include freshmen Erin Cahill, Alide Pellicane and Kara Guno and junior Alexis Pellicane.
First-year head coach Christina Sullivan says the strategy she will continue to employ this season is based on trying to take advantage of opponents’ mistakes, especially on the basepaths. In addition, she hopes to keep the team’s outlook positive despite the results.
“A lot of times, younger players especially hang their heads after they make an error or strike out,” she said. “Our coaching staff emphasizes the fact you can’t change what happened, but you can learn from mistakes so they don’t happen again. It’s also important players don’t carry a bad at-bat onto the field or take an error they made to their next at-bat.”
Weather permitting, the Eagles visited Sayreville April 11 and hosted Carteret High School the following day. The week concludes with a home game against East Brunswick April 15.