By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The Kearny High School softball team lost some quality players to graduation, especially pitcher Ashleigh Amadeo and doeverything performer Sarah O’Neill, from last year’s team that went 15-12.
“They were quality players who are hard to replace,” said Kearny head coach Jim Pickel. However, it just may be that the Kardinals have at least found a replacement for Amadeo on the mound.
“We’re going to miss Ashleigh’s pitching, but we think that the new kid is very good,” Pickel said.
The new kid is freshman Carolynne Rivera, who has all the tools to be a very good one.
“I knew she was good coming in, but I didn’t think this good,” Pickel said of Rivera. “One of the things I’m very impressed with is that if someone makes an error behind her, she never gets rattled. She stays the same the whole time and for a freshman that’s very impressive. She does have an assortment of different pitches, but we’ll still working on her.”
Rivera’s best pitches seem to be her drop and her drop curve.
“She’ll get better as she goes along,” Pickel said.
Finding someone who could do as much as O’Neill did might be a different story. O’Neill started her career as an outfielder, became an infielder and could pitch and catch if needed.
“She played three different positions for us, so losing that versatility might be a little tough,” Pickel said. “We do have some girls who can do different things.”
Senior Kristen Stankus, just one-third of the Stankus triplet brigade, is the starting catcher.
“She’s our returning catcher and this year, she looks really solid,” Pickel said. “She’s taking on the leadership role back there. She communicates well with the rest of the team in terms of telling people what to do. And she’s helping the young pitcher.”
Senior Emily Papa returns to her spot at first base. Papa batted close to .400 last season.
“We’re hopeful that she can do a little bit more this year,” Pickel said. “She’s our No. 3 hitter and helps the offense, but the key thing she does for us is her defense. She scoops up balls in the dirt and catches everything. She’s more comfortable now at first, so that’s made her into a better hitter as well.”
The second base duties are being shared by a pair of juniors, namely Kelly Wilkinson and Lacey Burton.
“They both do different things,” Pickel said. “It’s kind of hard to pick one out, ahead of the other, but they both help us.”
Sophomore Daniella Echevestre is the starting shortstop.
“She’s very athletic and handles playing there well,” said Pickel of Echevestre, who is also a solid hitter.
Senior Kelsey French returns for her third season as the starting third baseman.
“She’s very solid there,” Pickel said. “She’s hitting the ball a lot better so far this spring.”
Junior Amanda Seda is the starter in left field, with senior Kerry Sweeney in control of centerfield.
“Kerry played mostly in the infield last year, but she played centerfield in the fall and did very well,” Pickel said.
Junior Spiridoula Dimou is the starter in right field.
Pickel has a good bench he can rely on, including the other two Stankus twins, namely Nicole and Jennifer.
“Nicole will do some pitching and can fill in at any infield position, so she’s valuable,” Pickel said. “Jen can play right field or second base. They’re all great kids and I’m glad to have them.”
He just can’t yell “Stankus” and expect to get one answer.
“I don’t think it’s a problem having triplets on the team,” Pickel said. “In fact, I think it helps us.”
Freshman Melissa McAndrew is another versatile player who can catch, play the outfield or infield.
“She’ll go wherever she’s needed,” Pickel said of McAndrew.
The Kardinals were scheduled to open their season Tuesday against Hoboken, then face Queen of Peace Thursday and head to the Hackensack Tournament with a matchup against Passaic County Tech in the first round.
Pickel is confident that the Kardinals can make some noise this season.
“I definitely think we can compete,” Pickel said. “We just have to keep going, year by year. The big concern for me coming into the school year was who the pitcher was going to be. But Carolynne has put the time in and made life a lot easier.”
It’s now time to see how the freshman can perform when it counts.