By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
For the first six years of his tenure as the head coach of the Belleville High School softball program, Chris Cantarella saw his fair share of success.
“We won seven games the first year, then had 15 wins the next,” Cantarella said. “Then, we won 18 games three years in a row. We were ranked among the Top 20 in the state for a while.”
However, last year, Cantarella saw the bottom drop out. Fielding a very inexperienced and young team, the Buccaneers won only two games.
“It was tough,” Cantarella said.
Cantarella was hoping for better things in 2013, but that hasn’t been the case, as Belleville has struggled to a 1-9 record.
Last Friday afternoon, the Buccaneers played neighboring rival Bloomfield well for four innings, then suffered through one bad inning that led to another, resulting in yet another loss.
“Unfortunately, that’s been the case,” Cantarella said. “It just seems to be our M.O. We play well for three or four innings, then one thing leads to the next and at the end of the game, we’ve lost again.”
However, Cantarella can’t praise the collective attitude of his team enough.
“Even though we were losing, 11-0, you would think we were winning, by the way they were cheering and had each other’s back,” Cantarella said. “We keep trying hard, but we have that one bad inning that kills us.”
Last week, the Buccaneers dropped a 1-0 contest to Kearny, which has only one loss all season. That run came in the top of the seventh inning.
“It could be tougher than what it is, but the girls are the reason why I keep with it,” Cantarella said. “They’re coming to practice every day and working hard to get better. They are all working to get better and that’s a positive. I see the positive signs every day, a little thing here and there. I see improvements.”
In the game against Bloomfield last Friday, Cantarella said that his team had better at-bats.
“We had better swings on the ball and worked the count a little better,” Cantarella said. “I have to be able to take the little positive things that come out of every game. We come back the next day and practice hard again. I tell the girls that you might get knocked down, but you get back up and try again.”
Cantarella also knows that the losing can’t continue.
“It’s just one of those things where they’re learning to execute now,” Cantarella said. “It’s just a matter of time. If we keep playing hard, eventually, we’re going to break out of it, get some momentum going and win a few.”
It’s going to be harder now that sophomore right-hander Sarah Guy suffered two herniated discs in her back and might miss the rest of the season.
“Sarah was the one who held Kearny down in that game,” Cantarella said.
Luckily for the Bucs, junior Jenna Lombardi, a transfer from Immaculate Conception of Lodi, has returned home to Belleville to pitch for the Bucs.
“Jenna has pitched well,” Cantarella said of his lefty starter. “She mixes up her pitches well. She has a nice changeup. She’s a tough kid who works hard. We just have to make the plays behind her.”
The catcher is senior Frankieann Fontana.
“She’s a four-year starter who has done a little bit of everything for us,” Cantarella said. “She was first our designated player as a freshman, then she pitched a little. She played first base last year and now she’s our catcher. She’s our senior leader.”
Fontana will play college softball next fall at Neumann College in Pennsylvania, keeping a tradition of Belleville softball products moving on to the next level.
Senior Noelle Agosta is the team’s first baseman. Agosta was an outfielder last year.
Junior Keana Falcon is the second baseman. This is Falcon’s first year of varsity softball.
Senior Desiree Santiago is the shortstop. She played third base last year and second base as a sophomore.
“We’ve moved her all over,” Cantarella said.
Junior Amanda Vazquez is the team’s third baseman.
The Buccaneers have a pair of sisters manning the outfield. Sophomore Samantha Samaniego is the left fielder, with junior Alisson Samaniego in center. Erika Santiago (no relation to the shortstop) is the right fielder and Jaclyn Sales is the team’s designated player.
Cantarella is trying to keep a stiff upper lip. He doesn’t want to see the Belleville softball program to struggle.
“I see little things here and there and that keeps me going,” Cantarella said. “I can see the improvement from March 15 to March 30, from April 1 to April 15. We’re making strides. We’re getting there.”
It’s good to see someone as dedicated and devoted as Chris Cantarella keeping a positive approach, because the Belleville softball program needs him to remain on track. He’s good for high school sports and great for that program. The last two years have been hiccups. He’s better and the program will be better than what they’ve shown.