By Jimmy Allinder
John P. Stevens
Hindsight never fails to be 20-20.
When seeds for the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) softball tournament were announced a week ago, John P. Stevens High School was awarded the fifth spot.
In retrospect, the Hawks (13-4) may have deserved a higher seed after defeating top-seed South Plainfield High School (18-3), 2-1, May 11 in a regular-season game.
The tournament was supposed to get underway May 13, when J.P. Stevens was scheduled to face 12th-seeded John F. Kennedy (JFK) Memorial High School in the first round. However, the game was postponed to May 15. If the Hawks prevailed, it would likely set up a compelling quarterfinal May 17 against third-seeded Monroe Township High School. The Falcons have knocked off the Hawks twice in the regular season.
“We have been building toward the postseason,” coach Krystal Petty-Quinn said. “The South Plainfield win and the victory before that against an excellent Howell High School (5-3) point to that. We’ve developed excellent chemistry, and the players are hungry to get things done.”
Also credit the senior leadership of shortstop Julie Siecinski (.440 batting average) and catcher Brianna Zederbraun (.380), who have played like the veterans they are and have been the cement that has bonded the team together.
The pitching has been excellent with junior Ashley Lombardi in the circle for most starts (8-3). She has been complemented by sophomore Emily Tavares (3-1). The lineup has been sparked by newcomers, including freshman Abby Jason, who has come up with clutch hits (including the winning one against South Plainfield) and has played solid defense at either second base or in right field.
Lombardi and Tavares have contributed to the offense, averaging .529 and .304, respectively. Others having outstanding seasons are junior Amanda Leary (.409) and sophomores Brianna Miller (.390) and Alyssa Mido (.324).
Another area softball team that should never be discounted from being a serious threat to win the GMCs is Bishop George Ahr High School.
Coached by veteran Missy Collazo, the Trojans (ninth seed) were 14-6 overall after winning their preliminary-round game May 11, shutting out Mother Seton Regional High School, 10-0. That earned Bishop Ahr a first-round game with eighth-seed South River High School (18-1) May 15.
Quality pitching has been a trademark of past Trojan teams, and this year is no exception. Junior Katie Eicher is 12-4 and has been spelled by freshman Alyssa DeJianne (2-2), who also plays third base.
The future looks promising with much of the offensive production coming from underclassmen. They include freshman first baseman Megan Herka (.520), freshman right fielder Allison LaRochelle (.328) and sophomore shortstop Colleen Cronin (.327). Senior center fielder Kayla Simon (.367) has been one of the team’s top offensive players.
The rest of the starting lineup includes junior second baseman Ryleigh Greenwald, senior outfielder Colleen Sharlow, freshman outfielder and second baseman Rebecca Irizarry, junior outfielders Erin Pepe and Madison Menafro, sophomore outfielder Gianna Rossi and junior catcher Giulia Capasso.
Collazo has always emphasized winning but wants her team to enjoy the experience of playing and being good teammates, too.
“We want the girls to have fun and appreciate their abilities,” she said. “Just as important is teaching them to be accountable for their actions and always give their best effort. The goal is to represent their school in a positive way and display good sportsmanship. We want them to learn to become good people as well as good players.”
The Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen baseball team (14-9) is the top seed in the GMC Tournament, but at least three others could have been tabbed No. 1.
What matters most, however, is advancing, and the Falcons have as good a chance as anybody to capture the conference title.
“We’ve gone 11-3 in [regular-season] Red Division games, plus we’ve played a difficult non-conference schedule,” coach Mike Murray said. “We need to take the pieces of those successes and correct some things in order to win now that the games are more meaningful.”
In senior pitcher Kyle Angel (4-0, 1.37 earned run average with 50 strikeouts), St. Joe’s brings to the mound one of the GMC’s top hurlers. He has also been a top offensive contributor with a .400 batting average, two home runs and 14 runs batted in.
Among the others leaders in hitting are seniors Ross Maertz (.435, 33 hits, four home runs, 11 doubles, 18 runs batted in), Mike Farr (.444), Brandon Warick (.390) and Gabe Mejias (.312) and junior Jon Sot (.397).
St. Joe’s hosted the winner of 17th-seeded North Brunswick Township High School and 16th-seeded JFK Memorial May 15 in the first round of the GMC Tournament. The quarterfinals are May 17 at Community Park in North Brunswick, the semifinals are May 20 at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater and the championship game is May 27 at East Brunswick Vocational Technical High School.