Things looking up for scrappy Blue Tide softball squad gals


Photos by Jim Hague/ Senior pitcher/third baseman Shannon Mattern (l.) and senior shortstop Briana O’Donnell (r.) are the two key members of the Harrison softball team this spring.

By Jim Hague 

The 2012 high school softball season arrives next week and it’s not a moment too soon for Harrison High School.

“We’re definitely in a better situation now,” said Harrison head coach Dave Nankivell, who guided the Blue Tide to a 10-15 record last year. “For the most part, we’re in better shape. We did graduate four key senior starters, but the players we have coming back are all improved. They have a good level of experience and maturity. There’s also excellent chemistry.”

It’s safe to say that the Blue Tide softball program has come a long way.

“When I first started, the girls had a total lack of understanding about the game,” Nankivell said. “The first practice that first year, we had 20 girls and only one had a glove. Now, the expectations are much higher and the girls understand what they’re doing.”

It means that the Blue Tide group is expected to do better things this season.

Senior Shannon Mattern is a key component to the Blue Tide’s success. Mattern was the team’s No. 2 pitcher last year and she may see some action on the mound again this year, but she’s more valuable as a third baseman.

“We’re fortunate enough to have a good player at third, so we don’t want to jeopardize that,” Nankivell said. “For now, she’s going to split the time between third base and pitcher. She didn’t even know how to pitch before she came to us.”

Mattern will share the pitching duties with freshman Fiona Slattery.

“She’s done a nice job,” Nankivell said. “We’re going to give her a few chances to pitch. If Fiona can function well, then that makes us a much stronger team.”

The catching duties are being handled by sophomore Alexandria Hidrovo, who got to start about six games behind the plate last year to get ready for this season. Hidrovo is a student at High Tech in North Bergen, but commutes back to her hometown in time to play softball.

“She gets her bat on the ball and she’s evolving as a catcher,” Nankivell said.

Bianca Martinez, one of the best all-around female athletes in the area, plays first base. She’s been a three-year starter for the Blue Tide in softball.

“She’s a very good athlete who is becoming a pretty good first baseman,” Nankivell said. “Her bat is beginning to come around.”

Junior Genevie Andujar is the second baseman. Andujar, up from the junior varsity, is handling the duties well.

“This is her first year as a starter,” Nankivell said. “She got her feet wet last year as a pinch hitter in a few games. She’s doing well now.”

The shortstop is senior Briana O’Donnell, who is one of the finest players in the NJIC-Meadowlands Division. O’Donnell batted better than .400 last year and has been a fixture at shortstop for all four seasons.

“Briana and Shannon Mattern make us go,” Nankivell said. “If we can get people on base in front of them, they’ll drive them in. Briana hits well and she also hits for power.”

Mattern is at third, but she’ll allow sophomore Jennifer Ferriero a chance to play some at third as well.

“Ferriero is a real tough kid who is going to be good,” Nankivell said.

Senior Nicole Cunha is the left fielder. Nankivell raves about the contributions of Cunha.

“She’s started almost every single game since she’s been with us and I’ve moved her all around the lineup,” Nankivell said. “She hits at the top of our lineup and she’s lightning fast. The more she gets on base, the better we’ll be. And she has so much energy that she’s like the Energizer Bunny. She just keeps going and going. She’s a real smart kid who pays attention.”

Freshman Amber O’Donnell, the younger sister of Briana, is the centerfielder. She’s the third of a line of three O’Donnell sisters.

“She potentially could be the best of the three,” Nankivell said. “She is doing well, because it’s a big adjustment coming from recreation softball to varsity. She’s very competitive and pushes herself.”

The right field slot is being contested by three players, seniors Ashley Rodriguez and Tara Mitchell and freshman Kayla Montilla, who has also shown promise.

The Blue Tide opens the 2012 season Saturday against Passaic and plays its first league game next week against Becton Regional.

“I think we’re going to be able to hit the ball,” Nankivell said. “We’re going to get our share of hits. If our defense can be solid and our pitchers get good location, keeping hitters off balance, then we can be pretty good. We have to throw strikes and play defense behind our pitchers. But we’re going to hit the ball.”

And in that respect, the Blue Tide should be much better this spring.

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