Emily Orr, Julia Kwiatek and Karlie Manco are the first three softball hitters in Hillsborough High School’s batting order.
In 2018, the trio enjoyed a breakout season.
Orr batted over .400. Kwiatek drove the ball to all fields. And Manco hit the ball “as hard as I’ve ever seen a girl hit the ball,” said Hillsborough coach Cheryl Iaione, who has been coaching the Raiders for 25 years.
Orr, Kwiatek and Manco did not just spark a prolific lineup, either. They led Hillsborough to a 20-5 record, a Somerset County Tournament championship appearance and an NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament quarterfinal appearance. The Raiders lost to Montgomery High School, 3-1 and 8-4, respectively, in both tournament games.
Despite those losses, Iaione’s team was happy with its bounce back season. In 2017, with most of the same players, Hillsborough went 5-14.
The big three and their teammates were young and inexperienced. No one knew who the leader was. But last spring, Orr, Kwiatek and Manco took the lead.
“It was a nice nucleus,” Iaione said. “Chemistry is everything.”
All three upperclassmen hitters are back for 2019. So are three other starters, including ace pitcher Courtney Wengryn.
The Raiders will open their season on April 2 at home against Bridgewater-Raritan High School. Iaione expects last year’s chemistry to carry over into the new campaign.
“We should compete for the conference, the county and the sectional,” she said.
Orr, Kwiatek and Manco will bat in the top three spots again. All three hit and get on base consistently.
Iaione is not worried about them.
“They are just tough outs,” the coach said.
Going into the year, though, the coach still needs to figure out the rest of her lineup. But she at least knows she has talent.
Delaney Smith, a four-year starter at shortstop, is one of the other returners from last spring. Hillsborough also has four other “great athletes,” Iaione said, who could make a big impact.
Mikayla O’Neill, Sierra Skala, Carli Perruso and Carly Quabeck are all fast, strong girls who can play anywhere on the field. At the plate, Iaione thinks they can add a new dimension, speed, to Hillsborough’s already potent lineup.
“We may run more this year,” Iaione said.
“But with the middle of the order I’m still playing around,” she added.
Iaione has the same good problem with her pitching staff. It wasn’t a staff the last two years. Wengryn was Hillsborough’s only pitcher.
Now though, the junior has backup. O’Neill and sophomore Katie Rygiel are both talented hurlers. They just couldn’t pitch last year because they had injuries.
Going into this season, O’Neill and Rygiel are motivated to prove they belong.
“Mikayla has a chip on her shoulder and I expect Katie to have a big season,” Iaione said.
The mere presence of O’Neal and Rygiel will help Wengryn mentally.
“She’ll feel better knowing we can spell her,” Iaione said. “Depth will bolster the whole program.”
Hillsborough has experienced, top level talent and inexperienced players with a lot of potential. The established standouts, Orr, Kwiatek and Manco, will keep the pressure off their younger teammates.
That is a recipe for development and success.
“The other kids will thrive off what they do,” Iaione said.