March 31, 2012
Hudson County Varsity's 2012 Softball Preview
Senior 1B Jovanique Meneses and Union City look to repeat as Hudson County champs. (Photo: Jason Bernstein)
By Jason Bernstein Editorial Director
Stories to Watch in Softball
Repeat success for Union City?
With the additions of players like Angie Nieves, Amanda Casillas and Jovanique Meneses, Union City was expected to be much improved last year. Few however expected them to win the Hudson County Tournament.
Now after slugging their way to a title the Soaring Eagles are eager to prove they are not just a one year wonder.
"That's the goal for these ladies. These girls that are from Union City want to prove that they want to be a perennial contender, that its a year in and year out thing," head coach Ray Coccioli said. We want to make it known throughout the county that it wasn't a fluke and we to build a program.
Nieves and Casillas may be gone to graduation, but Union City still has plenty of threats in the lineup led Meneses at first base and sophomore Shalia Rolon at catcher. The Soaring Eagles also return three-year starters Adrianna Liverman, Jessica Diaz and Michelle Ruiz.
The most important returnee though may be junior Melissa Mendoza in the circle.
"I think she's gotten better," Coccioli said. "She understands the game better. She understands when certain pitches need be made and when they shouldn't be made. Her mental toughness, being in so many critical games last year, is a benefit and should really help her the rest of her career."
Samantha Uribe returns at left field. Sophomore Yarleen Dominguez takes over at third base and has impressed during the scrimmage schedule. Junior Suriely Ramirez is the starter at shortstop with Erika Ruiz and Shaela Rodriguez splitting the DH spot.
Union City may have its No. 3 and No. 4 hitters from a season ago, but they are hardly the only team with big holes to fill.
Last year's runner up North Bergen graduated 11 seniors, including a quartet of four-year starters in P Carla Arismendi, CF Ashley Heredia, SS Jazmin Palma and 2B Tiffany Garzon.
Replacing Arismendi, the Bruins' ace and cleanup hitter who is now at Southern University, is a particularly daunting task. The pitching responsibilities have been turned over to junior Jessica Feria, a first baseman a season ago.
Despite the many graduations, North Bergen returns a rising young core. Junior Nerylix Cerda moves from left field to shortstop and is a threat at the top of the order. The Bruins also return senior catcher Kayla Muniz and promising sophomore outfielder Christina Otero.
Secaucus will have to replace the top four hitters in the lineup from the past two seasons with CF Andrea Innis, P/3B Shannon Waters, C Kelsey Snedeker and SS Alexis Waters.
The Patriot offense is far from barren. Juniors Ariana Simon, Danielle Roesing and Lauren Guillen are three-year starters who move to the top half of the lineup after creating havoc in the bottom half the previous two seasons. Roesing is the full-time pitcher and sharing the role with Shannon Waters the previous two seasons.
"Those core players all started as freshmen and then over the past couple of seasons have been learning the ropes," head coach Cheryl Bott said. They have definitely jumped into a leadership role. With two freshmen (Julia McClure and Kendall Caruso) entering the starting lineup, they know what it was like when they were freshmen. They were able to bring those kids, take them under their wing and show them what it's all about."
Roesing will hit cleanup with Simon hitting No. 5. Guillen moves from left field to center. Guillen will also be moving into the leadoff spot, a place Bott believes she will thrive at.
"She's a pest on the bases which is a good thing," Bott said. "If we can get her on (base) and get her over, we'll get her in. She's been doing a nice job in the leadoff spot for us.
"She can hit with power, she can drag bunt, she can slap. Whatever she needs to do to get on base, she will do it. It's comforting for me to know that I have a kid in that spot that will do whatever she can to get on base."
Secaucus adds a pair of multi-sport standouts in McClure at shortstop and Caruso at third base. They also return OF Amanda Beckmeyer and Jessie Koerner, who moves to catcher after previously playing the outfield. Juniors Danielle Mitchell and Kim Alfonso are both competing for time at second base. Ashley Rivera and Summer Kochera are battling for the left field spot.
Three teams which do return the majority of their roster in 2012 are Hoboken, Ferris and McNair.
Pitcher Jayla Vega and speedster Sybil Lynch lead the pack of returning Red Wings from last year's 18-6 team. Hoboken also brings back Samantha Maldonado, Desiree Rivera and Jade Bracero.
Victoria Pessolano and sisters Nashayla and Eddilyn Figueroa headline a group of six returning starters for Ferris.
McNair won 14 games a season ago despite starting five freshmen in Sarah Beckner, Haley Bissell, Batia Krinsky, Sarah Kreutz and Dayana Harris. The Cougars also return slugger Natlia Estremera.
Something to Prove
In a 2011 season full of surprises, the biggest may have been Ferris. An afterthought within the county in recent years, the Bulldogs won 12 games and made an unexpected run to the semifinals of the Hudson County Tournament.
Ferris only has one senior in pitcher Victoria Pessolano, but with six returning starters looks poised to remain in contention for a county title.
"We have a lot of girls returning and they feel confident that with the bond they started with the season they had last year that it's just the beginning," head coach Mike Palughi said, "that this year they can continue with the success that we had last year."
Pessolano is a hard thrower with juniors Nashayla and Eddilyn Figueroa hitting second and third. The Bulldogs also return sophomore CF Victoria Vogt and junior infielders Jessica Oquendo (3B) and Alley Fonseca (2B). Ferris also adds catcher Thalia Hernandez and freshman slugger Ashley Cuevas at first base. Hernandez, a transfer from St. Dominic Academy bring some valuable leadership behind the plate.
"She's very established, she's a captain behind the plate," Palughi said. "She's very comfortable talking to the girls. She's very comfortable calling pitches. Having her is like having another coach on the field."
Ferris isn't the only team looking to prove they aren't a one-year wonder. Memorial, coming off their first league title in 30 years returns four starters in seniors Karla Calderon, Stephanie Alejo and Lissibeth Marte and junior Kelly Kuzirian.
Calderon moves to pitcher after catching the previous three seasons and Alejo moves to catcher after previously being in right field.
"It's been something we've been working on since (Karla) was a freshman," head coach Chris Oliveri said. "In my opinion, she's the best female athlete that Memorial's ever had and if anyone can transition from catcher to pitcher it's her. She throws very hard, she throws strikes."
The Tigers won't have quite as much power as a year ago, but add a pair of potential sluggers in freshman Noelis Santana (competing with fellow freshman Kaitlyn Almonte in right field) and designated hitter Anna Vicente, a senior playing softball for the first time. Oliveri is also excited with the speed Kuzirian and new centerfielder Erica Sotamba.
"Erica's taken over for Tania Quito who was a dynamic centerfielder offensively and defensively," Oliveri said. "Erica is going to slide into the No. 2 spot in the batting order. She's got loads of speed. She's a good hitter, a line drive hitter. She's a good bunter and she makes all the plays in center field."
Another team looking to build off a surprising 2011 season is Lincoln. The Lions won a school record 17 games, including their first ever playoff win with HCT victory over Dickinson. Lincoln returns a core with Amanda Cortes, Ivie Morales and Raquel Smith.
Most teams have one set pitcher in the circle, but St. Dominic Academy is looking at four potential pitchers. Seniors Jaimee Laurie and Amanda Rivera, junior Liz Tolentino and freshman Christina Mezey could all pitch for the Blue Devils this season.
"I would like to have one pitcher, but they're all at the same level," said head coach Jim Murduca, noting his team has dealt with injury issues to Laurie and Rivera through most of the scrimmage season. "I have no idea who I'm going to throw day to day."
Laurie is the most proven of the group, winning five games a season ago. Regardless of which one is in the circle, all four will be in the lineup. Laurie will see plenty of time in centerfield, Rivera will be at shortstop with Mezey at shorstop and the outfield. Tolentino is the main third baseman.
St. Dominic returns catcher Alyssa Laurie and 1B Kate Zubicki in the top third of the order. The two seniors provide plenty of stability for a very young team, which will give plenty of at-bats to freshman power hitter Gabriella Contey and sophomores Kaitlyn Cannito, Margaret Hoskopoulos and Zoe Kushir.
Another team with plenty of youth and something to prove this year will be Harrison. The Blue Tide could be starting as many as three freshmen with center fielder Amber O'Donnell, pitcher Fiona Slattery and right fielder Kayla Montilla. Harrison will also have a pair of sophomore starters in DH Jenna Ferriero and catcher Lexi Hidrovo.
The Blue Tide are young, but loaded with speed, which should play well in Harrison's turf field. O'Donnell and senior Nicole Cunha are at the top of the order followed by a pair of four-year starters in Shannon Mattern (3B/P) and Briana O'Donnell (SS).
"The biggest surprise batting wise has been (Shannon)," head coach Dave Nankivell said. "Shannon's been hitting the ball this spring. She's a tough out and she's like a gazelle... They can hit to all fields, they have no problem going to right field. They're disciplined hitters and if they hit we're going to win, or at least score a ton of runs."
Seniors Bianca Martinez, Kayla Montilla and Ashley Rodriguez and junior 2B Genevie Andujar are also key components in a lineup, which is as deep as Nankivell has ever had since taking over.
"It's going to be tough finding everyone a place in the lineup," Nankivell said. "One through nine, there's a lot of hitters. There's people who put the ball in play, who know the importance of manufacturing runs. Most of them are small, scrappy players so they know how to bunt and slap the ball."