Homers come to those that wait

Photo by Jim Hague/ North Arlington junior outfielder Katie Rouski.


By Jim Hague

As the North Arlington High School softball team played Becton Regional last week, junior outfielder Katie Rouski strode to the plate with the bases loaded.

Rouski’s teammate, Ashley Gandulla, offered some encouragement.

“She said, `Hey, Katie, why don’t you hit a home run?’” Rouski said. “I said, ‘I’ll be lucky just to get a base hit.’”

Gandulla was asking a lot, considering that Rouski had never hit a home run in an official varsity softball game before.

“I hit one in a scrimmage, but I don’t know if it counts,” Rouski said.

It doesn’t.

As it turned out, Rouski belted a grand slam for her first-ever varsity home run.

Her next time up, Rouski came up with two runners on base. Gandulla barked out the same words she did to Rouski just an inning before.

“She said the same thing and I said, `Now, you’re really crazy,’” Rouski said.

Sure enough, Rouski did it again, this time hitting a three-run homer. For a girl who never hit a homer before, she was certainly collecting homers in a rapid pace.

“I remember running off the field and hearing my mother (Carol), yelling, ‘Hey, what did you eat for breakfast,’” Rouski said.

Rouski’s day wasn’t done. Later on, she belted an RBI single, giving her three hits, two homers and an astounding eight RBI.

There was only one down side to the day. The Vikings lost the slugfest, 20-17.

“It felt great, but if we won, it would have been better,” Rouski said. “It just didn’t work out that way.”

However, nothing is going to diminish Rouski’s coming out party at the plate.

“I really didn’t think much about it, but after the game, when we put it all together, it was pretty amazing,” Rouski said. “In fact, it was surreal.”

What capped her day was a sensational catch that Rouski made in right field. She dove for a sinking line drive and made a backhand grab.

“I hit the ground and my knees were all cut up, but I held onto the ball,” Rouski said.

“She made that catch like Ron Swoboda in the 1969 World Series,” veteran North Arlington coach John Galante said. “It was one of the best catches I’ve ever seen. She had the two homers, the RBI single and capped off the day with the fantastic catch. She definitely had one of the best all-around games I’ve seen in a very long time.”

For her efforts, Rouski has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week, the first honoree in the spring scholastic sports season.

Rouski has been a jack-of-all-trades since she joined the NA softball program. She was a third baseman and outfielder in the past, but last year, she stepped up and volunteered to be the team’s catcher when no one else would do it. It made her mother, Carol, a former standout catcher during her playing days at North Arlington, eventually earning a place in the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame, very proud.

“I was fine with it,” Rouski said. “It was something I always wanted to try. I like being able to play multiple positions, because I get to see different things. It’s fun.”

Rouski, who also plays volleyball and basketball at North Arlington, said that she spent a lot of last summer getting ready for this softball season, playing for a travel team in Lyndhurst that featured players from rivals Lyndhurst and Queen of Peace.

“It was definitely interesting,” Rouski said. “There was no pressure. We were fine and we all got along. I guess all the pressure of being rivals was off. It was really good for me to get better in softball, keeping my softball skills going.”

Rouski also has a personal softball coach in her mother, who owns a softball training facility called Diamond Academy in Westwood, where both Rouskis work together.

“My mother has always been a great influence on me,” Rouski said. “We’re always together, catching, hitting. She still has it. She’s the one who encouraged me to be active.”

The elder Rouski played the same three sports during her days at NA, graduating in 1977.

The younger Rouski also takes hitting lessons from personal coach Lisa Rizzo, who works at Diamond Academy with the elder Rouski.

“It’s definitely helped,” Katie Rouski said.

Galante saw glimpses of Rouski’s improvement last year, when she batted .340.

“She always had a good swing, but now, she has power with that swing,” Galante said. “This was definitely a breakout game for her. She was our No. 5 hitter last year and was third on the team in RBI. Because of her mother, she knows the game. But Katie is a workaholic and always wants to get better. She’s improved a lot and in order to strengthen the team, I put her in right field this year. I’ve moved her around a lot and she’s never complained.”

Rouski knew that she needed to improve her game this season.

“I’m the only junior on the team, so I knew I had to step it up,” Rouski said. “I’m still working on it. I guess people are going to expect more from me, expect me to do this every game.”

Well, if Rouski was able to duplicate this game again, it might raise just a few eyebrows.

“It’s definitely a game I’m always going to remember,” Rouski said.

As well she should.

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