By Matthew Rocco
Raritan High School hosted its seventh annual Stephanie Coonan Don’t Stop Believin’ Classic, and the Rockets’ softball team continued to shine on the field amid the best start in school history.
The Rockets have zoomed to a 9-2 record to open the 2016 season, setting a new mark for Raritan. The team’s latest win came in the Coonan Classic against Bernards High School. Ashley Marino drove in two runs and scored two more to spearhead Raritan’s offensive barrage. Hallie Barone added two RBIs, and Nicole Kirse scored twice in the 11-9 win.
The softball showcase April 23 also featured Middletown High School South, Immaculata High School, Manalapan High School, Henry Hudson Regional High School, Howell High School, Morris Knolls High School, Jackson Liberty High School, Nutley High School, Ocean Township High School and Livingston High School. Middletown South earned a 6-1 win over Immaculata, improving to 9-2 on the year.
Through the Coonan Classic, the Raritan softball program raises money for a scholarship fund in honor of Coonan, a former Rockets co-captain who died in 2009 after a battle with stomach cancer.
“It’s very important for Raritan softball and all the families involved. Even though none of the players here now ever met Stephanie, just the fact that so many people put all the effort into honoring her, it says how much she means to everyone,” head coach Aado Kommendant said.
“We don’t just want to have an event for Stephanie. We want to have a great event. It’s a team effort, and I’m not just talking about the uniformed personnel. I have the greatest set of parents. They work so hard to make sure everything is perfect.”
Kommendant added that Raritan’s grounds crew and the entire athletic department helped make the Coonan Classic a success.
On the field, the head coach likes what he sees from the Rockets. Pitchers Kirse, a junior, and senior Nicole Coppolino have flourished in the circle, and the lineup has proved to be a force. Kommendant credited assistant coach Darci Santella, who played for St. John Vianney High School, with helping Raritan’s hitters sharpen their mental approach to at-bats.
“I think that’s key to the great at-bats we’ve been having,” he said.
Raritan’s success at the plate started with a rough preseason performance against Hillsborough High School, according to Kommendant. From that point forward, the Rockets took things to another level, showing a determination that has impressed their coach. In the last week, Raritan notched three come-from-behind wins.
“Whenever we are down, the thought is, ‘How can we pull this off?’ Some teams are thinking about not messing up. We’re busy figuring out how we can win,” Kommendant said. “I think the fact we have that comeback ability will definitely help us down the line.”
Raritan is battle-tested just 11 games into the season. The team traveled to Seton Hall University to play Newark Academy April 16. The Rockets got the win, 3-2, and Kommendant said playing on an NCAA Division I field was a great team-building experience.
The Rockets are also getting a workout in the Shore Conference A Central Division — a tough division that includes St. John Vianney, Manasquan High School, Holmdel High School and Monmouth Regional High School.
St. John Vianney was responsible for one of Raritan’s losses. The Lancers took that matchup, 7-0, and remain undefeated thus far with an 8-0 record. Raritan’s other loss came against Manasquan in the second game of the season.
Since the loss to St. John Vianney, Raritan has strung together six wins in a row.
Raritan looked to continue its winning streak April 26 in a scheduled game against Manasquan. The Rockets will travel to Shore Regional High School April 28, and a rematch with St. John Vianney will be hosted by the Lancers May 4. The first pitch is set for 3:45 p.m.