By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The Bergen County Softball Tournament was set to begin last week and Lyndhurst High School senior Casey Zdanek was more than ready for the task at hand.
“I was both nervous and excited,” Zdanek said. “It was a pretty big deal for us. I knew we hadn’t won a game in the county tournament in a very long time.”
To be precise, the Golden Bears hadn’t won a single game in the Bergen County Tournament since 1991. That’s before Zdanek and all of her teammates were even born.
“I had faith in Casey,” Lyndhurst head softball coach Elaine Catanese said. “I was a little nervous, but with Casey on the mound, I knew we could play with anyone.”
There was a good sign. The Golden Bears have been so surprisingly dominant this season that they actually drew a home game in the Bergen County tourney against Pascack Valley, a definite rarity for a small school like Lyndhurst.
“I knew nothing about them, so that was a big concern,” Zdanek said. “I knew they played in a good league (the Big North), so I had to be ready for anything.”
That’s exactly what transpired. Zdanek was more than ready, firing a five-hitter, striking out nine in the process, giving her 138 strikeouts on the season, already surpassing last year’s impressive total.
At the plate, Zdanek was dominant as well, with a homer, a double and three RBI, leading the Golden Bears to an impressive 8-3 win, the Golden Bears’ first win in the counties in 22 years.
For her efforts, Zdanek was selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for last week. It marks the third straight year that Zdanek has earned the honor, the first Lyndhurst female athlete to receive such a distinction.
Catanese said that Zdanek and her fellow senior catcher Julieann Schneidenbach have been devastating at the plate since Catanese moved both seniors up in the batting order.
“We have Grace Tomko as our leadoff hitter, followed by Casey and Julie,” Catanese said. “All three together have been excellent. In the case of Casey, she’s doing way better than I could have imagined. She’s always been good offensively, but pitching, she’s been incredible.”
Catanese believes that Zdanek has developed into a fine pitcher.
“I think she’s throwing a little harder than she ever did and she’s much more confident,” Catanese said. “Casey is in total control of the game when she’s out there. When she’s throwing, she has an idea of where to throw it and then she does it. She’s definitely a better pitcher. She’s matured 110%.”
Catanese said that she meets with Zdanek before every game to go through the strategy.
“We talk prior to every game and she knows where she has to throw her screwball and where to throw her changeup. She does such a great job that I can’t say enough about her.”
Zdanek said that she has improved as a pitcher.
“I think my changeup is a lot better,” Zdanek said. “I’m hitting my spots better and I’m more accurate with all of my pitches. The changeup has definitely helped.
”In the offseason, Zdanek trained with some of her teammates at FASST Training in Lyndhurst.
“We worked on my speed and strength,” Zdanek said. “It helped a lot. I’m throwing the ball a lot harder, that’s for sure. When I’m hitting, I’m not doing anything differently, except I see the ball a lot better. I see the ball coming in and I’m having more discipline, not swinging at balls outside anymore. I think I’m more disciplined at the plate, more confident and more relaxed.”
Catanese was asked about Zdanek’s main character trait.
“Definitely, it’s Casey’s tenacity,” Zdanek said. “She has that ‘go-get-him’ attitude. She definitely wants to go after every batter. I’m so pleased with what she’s done for us. I couldn’t ask for a better team right now. Casey and Julie are playing together and the rest are following along. It’s just amazing to see.”
Zdanek will get the ball Saturday, when the Golden Bears face the area’s top team in Immaculate Conception of Lodi in the quarterfinals.
“I’m looking forward to facing them,” Zdanek said. “It’s going to be a great game. I feel really good about it.”
Zdanek has already declared her intentions to play softball next year at Drew University in Madison. Zdanek has been enrolled in a special five-year program where she will receive her master’s degree upon completion.
“I’m very excited about it,” Zdanek said. “I’m sad that this is my last year in high school, but excited that I’m going to be able to continue to play.”
After Zdanek completes her studies at Drew, she plans on becoming a math teacher. She can start by teaching her prospective students how to figure out an ERA or a batting average.
“I’m so proud with the way the season turned out,” said Zdanek, who will also get the ball next week when the Golden Bears face New Milford for the NJIC Liberty Division title. “I don’t think anyone could have predicted this happening.”
As long as Zdanek throws the ball and swings the bat, anything is possible.