The 2016 high school softball season was a magical one for the Kearny Kardinals, filled with walk-off grand slams and come-from-behind victories.
More importantly, the Kardinals won 20 games, including a 7-1 win over Hoboken that enabled Kearny to capture the Hudson County Tournament championship for the second time in three years.
The Kardinals finished 20-4 last year and welcome back a bunch of seniors who played a part on that team.
“We had a coaches’ meeting last week and I could tell that people were a little worried about us,” veteran coach Jim Pickel said. “I told our girls that everyone will be coming at us every game all year and we have to be ready.”
Despite losing 10 seniors to graduation, the Kardinals feature a host of seniors that Pickel will count on to lead the way this year.
“We do have a lot of a seniors, so I do kind of expect people to talk about us as being one of the best teams in the county,” Pickel said. “I think it’s good for the girls, because college coaches will know all about us and want to come see us. They’ll be asking about Kearny and that’s good to know.”
Pickel said that he was all set to begin preparation for the upcoming season when the weather was wonderfully mild in mid-February.
“But we had to wait until March and now look what’s happening,” said Pickel, lamenting the pending winter storm that was expected to slam the area on Tuesday.
Pickel said that he already had a practice plan in place to combat the snow.
“We had to plan ahead in case of the storm,” Pickel said. “We were supposed to scrimmage twice this week, but that’s probably going to be cancelled. We’re going to be limited as to what we can do. We don’t have a batting cage for softball, so we can only do so much in the gym.”
The other factor playing against the Kardinals this season is that the team will not make the sojourn south to Myrtle Beach, S.C. like they did last year.
“We couldn’t plan that trip this year,” Pickel said.
So as the weather waits to pound the Kardinals, they realize they’re not alone.
“Everyone is all in the same boat,” Pickel said. “No one will be ahead of us.”
The Kardinals will have a major advantage over most teams _ that’s because the other teams won’t have a talented player like Sydney Pace on their roster.
The talented senior, already committed to play at William Paterson in the fall, batted .370 with four homers and 23 RBI, including the game-winning grand slam against rival North Bergen late in the season.
On the mound, the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League Pitcher of the Year posted an 8-2 record with 57 strikeouts, including the county tourney title victory over Hoboken.
Pace will play a lot at shortstop, but Pickel knows that when a big game is needed, Pace will be in the circle with the ball in her hands.
“We want to get her in at shortstop as much as we can, because that’s where she will play in college,” Pickel said. “But we’re going to use her on the mound against the stronger teams. Most teams don’t have someone like her. Most teams don’t have one pitcher and we have a strong amount.”
Fellow senior Giovanna Scrimo will also get her fair share of chances to toe the rubber.
“She’ll pitch more this year,” Pickel said.
If needed, senior Jane Amadeo, junior Emily Marshall and freshman Caitlin Natosi will all get chances to pitch.
“Jane pitched a lot for us when she was a sophomore and did really well,” Pickel said. “Last year, we really didn’t need her. Natosi has a lot of promise and throws the ball with good speed. I think she’s going to be really good in a year or two.”
Junior Tatiana Fermaint will be the team’s catcher. Fermaint hit .315 with two homers and 20 RBI last year while providing excellent defense behind the dish.
“She’s a lot more relaxed now with a year under her belt,” Pickel said of Fermaint.
Scrimo will be the first baseman, where she played a year ago and drove in 11 runs. She also posted a perfect 4-0 pitching record.
The second base duties will be shared between senior Alyssa Hodnett and junior MacKenzie Byrne.
Pace is the team’s leader and shortstop.
“She has been showing her leadership skills so far,” Pickel said. “And I’m very happy with that. She will say something and push someone along when I don’t have to. She’s been around for a while, so she knows what’s expected. She’s always trying to help out the younger girls. I think she’s one of the best players in the county. Hopefully, she’s better this year than last year.”
There is a bunch of players battling for time at third base, including promising newcomer Sydney Viscuso. Marshall, Byrne and Amadeo are also in the mix at third.
The outfield is wide open, although junior Gianna Hoch is looking like she’s the centerfielder. Hoch batted .404 last year with one homer, four RBI and 10 stolen bases. Her speed will be a key to the team’s success.
Amadeo will see time in the outfield, along with a trio of seniors, Haylee Witt, Michelle Espinosa and Brianna Rodriguez.
Sophomore Brionna Lizano is also an outfielder, but will also serve as the backup catcher to Fermaint. Freshman Kristina Yaya (got to love that name) has made an impression with her speed and will be a factor right away.
Deanna Truskalowski will be a first baseman/designated hitter who will get her share of at-bats.
The Kards open defense of their county title April 1 against Memorial, provided the snow is gone by then.
But when the snow clears and the dust settles, the Kardinals will be among the best in Hudson County once again. Pickel just knows it.
“Some of our kids know what it’s all about,” Pickel said. “The others will soon find out. I expect us to be playing at NJCU (in the county title game) once again. A lot of teams don’t have a pitcher like Sydney coming back. I’m looking forward to this season so much. But now that it’s here, snow is coming.”
It’s such a dirty word in March, isn’t it?
Senior Sydney Pace is a two-way threat for the Kearny softball team, the defending Hudson County champions. Photo by Jim Hague