You can never take away a state sectional championship.
Those were the words of Hillsborough High School softball Coach Cheryl Iaione about what her 2021 team was able to accomplish last spring.
Led by a stellar sophomore campaign in the circle by Sarah Davenport, the Raiders rolled to a sectional title and made it to the finals of the NJSIAA Group IV Tournament.
Another sectional title is in the discussion this spring with Davenport back for her junior year with the Raiders.
“She’s a great competitor,” Iaione said about Davenport. “If someone gets a hit on her, they’re not going to get a hit in the next at-bat. She makes the necessary adjustments. She’s very smart and a pleasure to coach.”
Having Davenport back is a big plus for the Raiders, but Iaione says every season is different and that her 2022 Hillsborough squad has a lot of new faces on it from last year.
“It’s a relatively new team from last year,” Iaione said of her 2022 squad. “There’s a lot of new kids in key spots.”
Alongside Davenport, seniors Josie Marcinek (second base), Diya Patel (first base), Alexa Chess (catcher) and Victoria Fantozzi (third base) all return to provide great experience around the diamond and at the plate for the Raiders.
Junior Claire Murphy (left field) and sophomores Danella Silagy (shortstop) and Claire Marcinek (right field) are also back for Hillsborough after seeing time in the starting lineup last season.
Newcomers that Iaione expects to make a huge impact on the squad this spring are junior Clay’le VanNess and sophomore Grace Brouillard.
VanNess will man center field for the Raiders and also serve as the team’s leadoff hitter at the top of the lineup.
“I think there is a lot of talent here,” Iaione said. “We still are trying to find our identity as a team. Once we find that, we’ll be able to turn this thing in the right direction.”
Hillsborough began its 2022 campaign with a thunderous 16-0 victory over Delaware Valley on April 2.
Josie Marcinek had a perfect opening day at the dish for the Raiders, going four-for-four with a walk, three RBI and two runs scored.
Fantozzi had a two-run single during the victory for the Raiders and reached base safely three times.
VanNess, Murphy and Claire Marcinek all had two hits against Delaware Valley for Hillsborough.
The Raiders hosted Bordentown Regional High School in their home opener on April 5.
Davenport was stellar in the circle against Bordentown, racking up a game-high 18 strikeouts in the contest.
— Steven Bassin (@SBassin_Sports) April 5, 2022
Davenport’s dominance, however, wasn’t enough to lead Hillsborough to victory against the Scotties.
Things went a lot different at the plate for the Raiders against the Scotties compared to opening day against Delaware Valley.
Hillsborough was shut down at the dish by Bordentown ace Allison Hoppe, who threw a no-hitter with 13 strikeouts to lead the Scotties to a 2-0 victory and hand the Raiders their first loss of the season.
“The bottom line is you can’t win with zero,” Iaione said after the loss to Bordentown. “We made some mistakes and didn’t hit the ball.”
Iaione has told her squad throughout this season that they are going to face a lot of “humps” in the road during the regular season against the strong competition they are playing. Some they will win, some they will lose.
No matter the result, Iaione said she believes each of those games will prepare her squad to make another run at a sectional title when state tournament time comes around at the end of the season.
“You learn and prepare through the games that you play during the season, “ Iaione said. “Playing these games is only going to make us better. Anything can happen when you get to the state tournament.”