By Wayne Witkowski
Jeanne Dickinson never had more than one player with 100 career hits in any of her 35 seasons before this one as Mater Dei Prep’s softball coach. This season, she may have four.
Pitcher Paige Fernandez and first baseman Tyrah Graves, both seniors, already have reached that milestone. Catcher Samantha Napoli needs four hits and shortstop Kayley Anthony needs nine more to reach that century mark. They’re both seniors.
While hitting has been a reliable constant, Dickinson did a massive switching of players around the infield to remedy the team’s struggles in the field, and it has helped as the Seraphs have a 12-5 record with some regular-season and state-tournament games remaining.
“In the first nine games, we made 35 errors. That’s just not what my teams do,” Dickinson said. “We just changed positions and it worked.”
Fernandez and Napoli are the only ones who have been in the same spots all season. Graves went from shortstop to first base. Junior Valerie Zoda went from first base to second base. Shortstop Anthony was the third baseman through those nine games. Sophomore Morgan Hurst was moved from second base to third.
The outfield pretty much has stayed as it was, with senior Jayme Lewandowski in left field and junior Jocelyn Dacquel in center. Juniors Heather Dorney and Salma Lima have alternated in right field.
“At first, they were hesitant [for the changes] but since they have seen a complete turnaround, they’ve changed their opinion,” Dickinson said. “They believe a lot more in each other and are having fun.”
But it couldn’t stop division leader Henry Hudson Regional High School from hammering out a 7-2 victory over Mater Dei May 8 in a Shore Conference B Central Division showdown. Lima and Dacquel batted in runs for Mater Dei in the home seventh when Henry Hudson committed four errors. Henry Hudson (10-1, 10-3) scored five runs in the top of the seventh to seal its second victory this season over Mater Dei — the earlier one by a 9-1 score. Dorney had two of Mater Dei’s four hits.
“They hit the ball with 10 hits and we made a couple of mental mistakes. We thought that part was taken care of. We’re still not a really good team yet. We’ll need help now,” said Dickinson as Mater Dei slipped to 10-3 in the division.
That help may come when Henry Hudson plays Point Pleasant Beach High School (8-2, 7-2) May 12. Henry Hudson also has games scheduled May 9 against Keansburg High School, which is 7-5 in the division, and May 10 against St. Rose High School, which is 3-10 in the division.
Mater Dei also played Point Pleasant Beach May 10 in its final league game. It also has games scheduled at Monmouth Regional High School May 11 and Marlboro High School May 12 and a home game against Pinelands Regional High School May 15 before the state tournament begins.
Now the Seraphs’ focus goes to the postseason, where they have ample hitting and solid pitching from Fernandez, who came into the Henry Hudson game with only four walks in 86.2 innings pitched — two of them in the Henry Hudson loss — and a 1.33 ERA. She allowed 42 runs on 77 hits before the Henry Hudson game but only 15 of those runs were earned. Fernandez has 66 strikeouts. She also bats .372 with 16 RBIs in the cleanup spot of the batting order.
Napoli, who hits second in the order, leads the team with a.556 batting average and nine RBIs, and Graves, who bats third in the order, has a .481 batting average and 25 RBIs. Graves has four doubles, three triples and a home run.
Despite batting leadoff, Anthony has a lot of RBIs with 18 and bats .367. Hurst hits .380 with 13 RBIs, and Dorney bats .344 with 10 RBIs.
They’ll look to keep the hitting in a high gear when tournament time begins in a few weeks.