Belleville’s Nicosia a threat at and behind the plate

It hasn’t been a season to remember for the Belleville High School softball team, winning an uncharacteristically low four games as the year winds down to a precious few contests.

However, there has been a bright spot for the Buccaneers, namely the development of junior catcher Cherylann Nicosia.

Nicosia was a find as a freshman two years ago, but struggled a bit last year.

“I definitely wanted to make a comeback this year,” Nicosia said. “I didn’t do as well as I did as a freshman. I wanted to do much better.”

So Nicosia recalled her upbringing in the sport. Her father, Mike, the former Belleville councilman, was a great baseball player at Belleville during his heyday and went on to become an NCAA Division III All-American at Montclair State.

“Honestly, my Dad has been a huge influence on me,” Nicosia said. “I always had his support and guidance. I remember when I first started playing, he was really encouraging to me. He would toss to me and help me with my swing. When I started, I wasn’t very good, but Dad definitely had a lot of faith in me and supported me 100 percent.”

When Nicosia was younger, she really didn’t have a true position.

“I was originally an outfielder,” Nicosia said.

But when she tried out for the softball team at Belleville, she noticed that the team needed a catcher.

“I decided to try out the new position,” Nicosia said. “And I ended up liking it. I liked it so much that I ended up taking lessons to become a better catcher.”

Belleville head softball coach Chris Cantarella also liked Nicosia as a catcher.

“I like the way she handled herself behind the plate,” Cantarella said. “She’s a very cerebral player. She’s a quick learner and learned a lot right from the start. And she’s become a phenomenal catcher.”

And Nicosia was always a solid hitter, batting .462 as a freshman, but dipped last year.

“I knew I had to do better this year,” Nicosia said. “I worked really hard in the offseason.”

Nicosia changed her batting stance a little.

“I decided to pick up my elbow a little and that has helped me to hit the ball harder,” Nicosia said. “I went to the batting cages a lot. I did a lot of hitting off the tee and also hit with front toss. And I decided every time I got in the batter’s box this year, I was going to forget about everything else. I was going to see the ball and go for it.”

The results have been staggering.

While the Buccaneers have had their difficulties, Nicosia has not, hitting a collective .533 on the season with seven doubles and 12 RBI.

Last week, Nicosia collected two hits and two RBI in a game against Kearny, two hits and two RBI against Newark East Side, three hits against Newark Academy, two against Montclair and three hits and two RBI in a wild 21-14 win over Newark East Side.

In fact, Nicosia had seven straight games where she collected at least two hits.

For her efforts, Nicosia has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

“I’m seeing the ball a lot better lately,” Nicosia said. “I think that’s why I’m hitting the ball better.

Nicosia, who is also an excellent volleyball player at Belleville, spends most of the summer months playing travel softball for the program New Jersey Fight, playing for famed softball coach Phil Delgado, who is currently an assistant coach at William Paterson University.

Cantarella was excited that Nicosia’s offseason schedule would help the Buccaneers this season.

“I was hoping that it would,” Cantarella said. “She plays at a high level all summer. I knew that she was going to have to be one of the girls we were counting on this year. She really has stepped it up and done a fantastic job.”

Cantarella loves Nicosia’s approach as a hitter.

“She goes up there and tries to hit the ball where she wants it to go,” Cantarella said. “She can pull the ball if she needs to, but she can really put it anywhere. She’s a good judge of where the ball has to go and making solid contact. I think that all comes from having a great work ethic. Her effort and dedication is outstanding. She’s always looking and working to get better.”

Cantarella is also allowing Nicosia to do something no other Buccaneer catcher has done during his coaching days.

“I let her call the game,” Cantarella said. “We’re usually on the same page, so I have tremendous faith in her and let her call what she wants. She’s called every pitch for the last two years. I like giving her the freedom to do things on her own. She’s smart enough to handle it and I wholeheartedly trust her. I don’t have to call pitches. I put a lot on her plate from Day One this year and she’s done a phenomenal job. I never have to worry about her.”

Cantarella totally believes that Nicosia can play softball at the next level.
“If someone doesn’t come and snatch her up, then the whole system is flawed,” Cantarella said. “She can definitely play at the next level. It baffles me that she doesn’t have an offer yet. She runs very well for a catcher. She’s not lightning quick, but she runs well and runs smart. And she never takes a play off. She doesn’t know how to do that.”

For example, Nicosia is diving all over the place, trying to block balls from going to the backstop, even when there are no runners on base.

“She doesn’t have to do that,” Cantarella said.

“When I first started, I couldn’t block the ball at all,” Nicosia said. “But now I do it all the time. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m always going to give 100 percent and go and block the ball. I like getting my body in front of the ball to stop the ball. I won’t let one get passed me.”

Nicosia was asked if it’s worrisome that no college has called her in an effort to recruit her.

“It is a little frustrating,” Nicosia said. “But I am trying to get colleges to come and see me. Maybe they’ll notice me this summer. I’m always thinking about how much I want to play in college, so I’m always trying to be the best player I can be.”

And her future is in softball.

“At first, it was tough juggling the two,” Nicosia said. “But now I know I have to focus on softball. That’s my sport. I’m working hard at that and this season, my hard work is definitely paying off.”

Cantarella is glad to have Nicosia back for another season in 2019 _ hopefully an improved and more Buccaneer-like campaign.

“She’s just a fantastic young lady,” Cantarella said. “She’s wonderful to coach. She’s a great student and in a ton of clubs in school. She’s just not your typical teenager. She’s smart, articulate, very well spoken and very mature. She’s just a great kid and my kids (son age 8 and daughter 5) who just love her. We’ll get better next year and we’ll have Cherylann to lead the way.”

Nicosia isn’t focusing on the wins and losses this season.

“It’s more about enjoying the time together with my friends and teammates,” Nicosia said. “We’re definitely going to get better. We’re a lot better than our record indicates. It doesn’t show how well we’ve played. I’m just going to make the most of it.”

Sure looks like Cherylann _ yes, all one word and yes, lower case ‘a’ _ Nicosia is making the most of everything.




Belleville junior catcher Cherylann Nicosia. Photo by Jim Hague



Learn more about the writer ...

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.”