Lyndhurst softball: A year older, a year better

The Lyndhurst High School softball team had a very young roster a year ago, including replacements at the key positions of pitcher and catcher.

“Our goal was to be above .500,” said Lyndhurst head coach Emily Ringen. “And we wanted to get to the states (the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II playoffs). I think the year before, we relied too much on Jenny (Tellefsen, now a success at the JUCO softball level at Florida State College at Jacksonville). We needed to build our pitching and catching. I did a lot more teaching and coaching and that’s what I like to do.”

Ringen realized one major thing.

“Softball is a game that is based on pitching,” Ringen said. “We needed to develop our pitcher.”

So Olivia McMullin became the Golden Bears’ main hurler.

“Olivia set the tone for herself,” Ringen said of the right-hander, who is now a senior. “We look to continue that this season. Absolutely, she’s the key. She makes us competitive. She throws hard and she’s very disciplined. She took the time to take pitching lessons and went all the time. She’s very focused and very dedicated. She puts her blood, sweat and tears into it.”

Junior Jenna Ricciardi is the team’s catcher.

“She’s always been a catcher,” Ringen said. “She played right field as a freshman, because we wanted to get her in the lineup. But Jenna is a catcher. And she’s a good one. I think that Olivia and Jenna are a good match together. They’ve grown more as softball players. They both have an interest in the game.”

Junior Ava Ruggier is the team’s first baseman. Ruggier was with the Golden Bears’ varsity squad for most of last season after transferring from Paramus Catholic.

“She was our DP (designated player) a lot last year,” Ringen said. “She swings a good bat. She is the only lefty in our lineup. She swings the bat well. She loves the game and has a strong focus.”

Junior Makenzie McMillan is the Golden Bears’ second baseman.

“It’s her third year as a starter, so she has a lot of experience,” Ringen said. “She is an excellent athlete. She’s a tough kid. She played football when she was a kid.”

Anybody who once played football with and against the boys is tough enough to play varsity softball.

The shortstop is sophomore Angela Downey, who is another excellent athlete on the Bears’ roster.

“She’s a very good hitter,” Ringen said. “She’s doing well. Last year, we had her in the outfield, but we moved her to short and she’s doing well. She’s a very versatile player.”

Mackenzie Kelly is a freshman and younger sister of former Lyndhurst baseball standouts Evan and Nolan. She’s the starting third baseman for the Golden Bears’ softball team this spring.

“She’s going to see time at third base and shortstop,” Ringen said “We’re molding her into a third baseman.”

Amber Fasig, another freshman, will also see time at third.

“We have a very talented freshman class,” Ringen said. “We’re going to keep five freshmen with the varsity.”

Sophomore Gabriela Schnur is the team’s left fielder. She is also the team’s No. 2 pitcher.

Centerfield duties will be shared by two freshmen, Madison Schaefer and Morgan Laverty. Both of Morgan’s two older sisters, Monica and Brooke, played softball at Lyndhurst.

Senior Jennifer Wartel is the starting right fielder.

The Henning sisters, namely junior Anna and freshman Elaina, will play significant roles with the Bears. Anna is a reserve second baseman and Elaina catches and plays outfield.

Freshman Alyssa Musto will be the team’s backup first baseman.

The Bears open the season April 3 against Leonia.

Ringen is very optimistic about her team’s chances. She’s almost certain that the Bears will be better than an 11-win team this year.

“I have been very excited since the second day of practice,” Ringen said. “We’re young and talented. We’re going to make noise with our bats this year. My assistant coach (Diana Auteri, sister of the head baseball coach Pat) noticed on the second day of practice that we had our best day of practice in four years. We got right into it.”

Ringen gave Diana Auteri credit for the Golden Bears’ improvement at the plate. If McMullin can emerge as a power pitcher, then it should be a fun spring for the Lyndhurst softball team this season.

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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.”