Belleville softball: Trying to find right answers

It’s sort of like a tough algebra or calculus exam.

But the Belleville High School softball team is struggling these days to find the right solutions to the Buccaneers’ problems.

The Bucs are currently 6-4, after a tough extra innings loss to New Providence last Saturday. In the eyes of head coach Chris Cantarella, they should be better, especially with a veteran team.

“We’re just not playing well right now,” Cantarella said. “We definitely had high expectations. We make too many physical mistakes and mental mistakes. We’re not playing to our true potential. We can play better. I know it. We have moments of greatness, followed by moments where we say, ‘What are we doing?’”

Cantarella looks at the calendar and realizes that it’s still only April and there’s more than a full month left of games.

“I know we can turn it around,” Cantarella said. “I can see it.”

Cantarella is blessed to have two quality pitchers in juniors Kara Sica and Kaila Freid.

“Kaila throws the ball a little harder,” Cantarella said. “Kara is more of a movement pitcher. They’re good pitchers, just not overpowering. They’re contact pitchers, playing to contact. The defense has to be solid behind them. They are battlers. They fight and don’t quit when things get tough. They are both solid competitors.”

The starting catcher was slated to be freshman Cherylann Nicosia, the daughter of former Belleville great athlete Mike Nicosia.

But Cherylann hurt her shoulder recently and she’s been on the shelf indefinitely.

“I don’t know how long she will be out,” Cantarella said.

In Nicosia’s place has been senior Brittney Huaman.

“She’s been a pleasant surprise,” Cantarella said. “To her credit, she listened and followed the direction of the freshman. Usually, it’s the senior leading the freshman, but this time, it was the other way around and Brittney has learned a lot and has gotten better.”

At first base is junior Gianna Benacquista, the third of the Benacquista sisters to play softball at Belleville.

“Gianna has a world of potential,” Cantarella said.

Second base belongs to junior Luciana Gilfone, another returning standout.

“She can play,” Cantarella said. “She also has a world of potential.”

The shortstop is senior Kristan Lombardi, a three-year starter on the Buccaneer infield. She also had a sister, Jenna, who was a great Belleville softball player.

“She’s been solid for us,” Cantarella said of the younger Lombardi. “She gets on base. She has a good eye at the plate and draws walks. She also puts the ball in play. I think she’s only struck out once this season.”

Junior Jasmine LaTorre is the team’s third baseman.

“We moved her from pitcher to third base this year,” Cantarella said. “She’s done a nice job.”

Former Buccaneer standout Sarah Guy, currently at Montclair State but taking the year off due to injury, has been working with LaTorre on the transition to third.

Senior Breana Nieves is in left field. Nieves played right field last year and was moved to left for this season.

“She has a strong arm out there,” Cantarella said. “She’s just a solid kid.”

Senior Keila Garcia is in centerfield. Garcia is another returning starter for Cantarella.

“She’s a very quick kid,” Cantarella said. “She broke her finger in preseason, so it has taken a while for her to get back into the swing of things.”

Cantarella has a litany of players to choose from to play right field, with senior Krystal Diaz, sophomores Augustina Garrido and Sydney Gomez and freshman Jehan Dabon the candidates fighting for playing time.

Junior Victoria Bruno has been getting the majority of at-bats at designated hitter.

“Like most power hitters, she needs to be a little more confident,” Cantarella said.

So Cantarella likes his team. He just doesn’t know why the Buccaneers haven’t been clicking already.

“I figure we still have 15-to-18 games to turn it around,” Cantarella said.

Count on the Buccaneers making major strides in the weeks to come.


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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”