Better times ahead for Kearny softball squad

Photos by Jim Hague/ The hopes of a successful softball season at Kearny lie with senior pitcher Ashleigh Amadeo (left) and senior shortstop Sarah O’Neill (right), two standout veterans who have to lead the way.


By Jim Hague

A year ago, the Kearny High School softball team had to endure some troubled times. The Kardinals started off the season with six straight losses and eventually saw their record stand at 2-9.

There were also chemistry and camaraderie woes with the team. Some players didn’t show up regularly. Others went on family vacations in the middle of the season. It caused a ton of discord among the Kardinals.

Eventually, the team all got together and won their share of games, finishing with a more respectable 10-14 record.

But as Jimmy Pickel begins his third season as the Kardinals’ head coach, he’s vowing that the same troubles that plagued the Kards last year will not return this season.
“We definitely should be better, because we’re all on the same page, definitely more than last year,” Pickel said. “This should be the best team we’ve had in my three years.”

The Kardinals went on a week’s trip to Myrtle Beach to partake in spring training at the Ripken  Experience, the facility owned by Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. The Kards played six scrimmage games in South Carolina, but they also got to know themselves a little better and grew as a team.

“We saw top quality pitching in those six games and we won’t see anything like that in the regular season,” Pickel said. “It definitely got us ready.”

It’s also refreshing to know that Pickel has a deep and versatile team, beginning with a pitching staff that goes three-deep.

Senior Ashleigh Amadeo is definitely the team’s top returning pitcher and should get the bulk of the pitching duty this season, but she has ample help from juniors Kim Campbell and Nicole Stankus.

“We’re going to try to mix and match a little,” Pickel said. “We’ll use Ashleigh as our starter, but we’ll have the others ready in relief if we need them. It’s a good thing to have that much pitching. You don’t have to rely on one.”

Junior Kristen Stankus, one of three Stankus triplets in the Kearny program, is the team’s new catcher. Kristen Stankus played first base last year.

“She’s been pretty solid, considering she didn’t play there last year,” Pickel said. “She’s coming along.”

First base duties will be shared by Amadeo, when she’s not pitching, along with juniors Christina Rivera and Emily Papa.

Second base will be handled by senior Stephanie Murphy.

“She’s an outstanding second baseman who has really stepped up this year,” Pickel said.

Senior Sarah O’Neill, who was an All-Hudson County centerfielder last year, has been moved to shortstop this season.

“She’s played everywhere for us, pitched, played third, played center,” Pickel said. “She’s handled the move to shortstop well. I really think she could play any position.”

Junior Kelsey French is the third baseman.

“Kelsey is a solid player who did well at the end of last year,” Pickel said. “She became comfortable at the end of last season and that has carried over.”

Senior Vanessa DaSilva, the standout point guard on the basketball team, has returned to playing softball after a two-year absence.

“She was a little behind at first because she had been away for so long, but she’s caught up now,” said Pickel of DaSilva, who is the team’s starter in left field.

Sophomore Nicole Kelly has taken over the responsibilities in center field.

“She’s very athletic out there,” Pickel said. “The one good thing is that we have a very athletic team.”

Right field is being shared by sophomore Spiridoula Dimou, senior Kaitlyn Lima and Campbell.

“Finding playing time for all of them might be tough, but they’re all productive,” Pickel said. “It’s good to have a deep team.”

Senior Ashley Dunwoodie, who missed some time due to injury, is working her way back into playing form.

“She’s coming back now, but she will have to catch up to match the others,” Pickel said. “Ashley can be more of a DP (designated player), but she can also play the outfield.”

Junior Kerry Sweeney is the team’s resident jack-of-all-trades, playing all of the infield positions.

“She has good versatility,” Pickel said. “I think the team is also very versatile and that helps.”

The Kardinals open their season with Hudson County league contests against Bayonne and Ferris. The big test will come next week when they face North Bergen.

But Pickel knows one thing for sure. There will not be a repeat performance of a year ago.

“That’s not expected at all this year,” Pickel said. “We know we have the ability to do good things this year. We want to get off to a good start this year.”

Count on it.

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