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Lancers’ softball team off to strong start with eyes on playoffs

By Matthew Rocco

Saint John Vianney High School’s deep lineup and talented pitching duo have carried the Lancers to a fast start to the softball season.

The Lancers opened the 2017 campaign with a 5-1 win over Caravel Academy (Bear, Delaware), led by seven strong innings from senior pitcher Demi Rivera and a two-RBI day for junior Shelli Rivard. Gianna Mavica also hit a solo home run.

The second game of the spring was a rout, as the Lancers scored in all but one inning on their way to a 10-0 shutout over Shore Conference A Central Division rival Holmdel High School. St. John Vianney also had a dominant performance against Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School in another division matchup. Rivard and Mavica each homered and drove in four runs to propel the Lancers’ offense in a 15-0 win.

In a showcase event April 8, Rivera shut out Cedar Grove High School, 5-0, striking out eight and surrendering just five hits over seven innings.

Overall, St. John Vianney’s confidence is high after the first week of the 2017 season.

“I think we’re playing pretty good softball right now,” said head coach Kim Lombardi, who entered her 13th year at the helm. “I’m happy with the way we’ve been hitting the ball. We’re also fielding well, and our pitchers are doing well.”

St. John Vianney has two pitchers that will share time in the circle. Rivera, a Post University commit, is a returning starter and a dual threat. Julia Parker is a talented freshman who can pitch as a starter or reliever.

The lineup is also deep. Mavica, who is headed to Princeton University in the fall, starts in right field. Fellow senior Meg Masi can play both corner infield positions. The junior class consists of center fielder Lindsey Baron, a Monmouth University commit, and Rivard, an infielder and outfielder.

Lombardi said the upperclassmen, along with St. John Vianney’s younger players, are providing valuable leadership on a team that welcomed several new players this year.

“This team doesn’t let things bother them. It’s a confident group. We have a lot of good character. From our seniors to our freshmen, we have a lot of leadership,” Lombardi said. “A leader can be somebody who puts down a sacrifice bunt when they’re asked to do it, or somebody who can talk to the other girls. We don’t need one leader. We need several leaders.”

Fordham University commit Ally Jones is St. John Vianney’s sophomore catcher, and her classmate, Alexis Agrapides, plays second base.

St. John Vianney’s newcomers are Parker, sophomore Jessica Campana (shortstop), and freshmen Brynn Reiser (third base/first base) and Gillian Zack (outfield). Parker plays first base in addition to her pitching duties.

“We hope to do a little bit of everything this year — small ball and long ball. We can hit home runs, but we can also lay down some bunts,” Lombardi said.

The Lancers have their sights on the postseason, a year after advancing to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals and losing their first game of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) tournament. St. John Vianney didn’t walk away from 2016 empty handed, though. The Lancers won a division title and a Monmouth County Tournament championship, finishing 21-3 overall.

“We need to finish this year. The last couple of years, we’ve let some things slip away from us,” Lombardi said. “We had quality scrimmages. Just with those preseason games, we’ve been tested. We know what we can and can’t do. When looking at other competitors, I think my girls feel confident going up against any opponent. I know I feel confident.”

St. John Vianney will return to the field April 13 in a home game against Shore Regional High School — an A Central opponent. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. The Lancers will host West Essex Regional High School April 15 at 7 p.m.

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