Belleville softball looks to make up for lost season

The Belleville High School softball team endured an uncharacteristic 6-15 record a year ago. It was not something that Chris Cantarella, the head softball and girls’ basketball coach at the school, was familiar with.

“We were in a rebuilding year,” Cantarella said. “We lost a bunch of experienced players, including two pitchers. We were also moving up a division (in the Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division). So we had a little bit of growing pains last year. It was a little bit of a challenge.”

But Cantarella saw some light at the end of the tunnel.

“We grew as a team,” Cantarella said. “From where we were on April 1 (the start of the season) to where we were on May 15 (the season’s end) was night and day. We were a completely different team.”

Cantarella was encouraged by his team’s play by season’s end.

“Our pitchers gained more confidence,” Cantarella said. “We made fewer mistakes as a team. We were able to shut the opponents down. I think it helped us develop as a team.”

And one thing was sure about the Lady Buccaneers.

“We never quit,” Cantarella said. “Not for a minute. The kids fought hard the entire season.”

A new season is set to begin in a few weeks for the Buccaneers and Cantarella already feels the difference.

It begins on the mound, where junior left-hander Charlotte Colon and junior righty Shannon Walsh stand. Cantarella has always liked employing two pitchers throughout the season and this year is no exception with the Bucs’ lefty-righty combo.

“I think going from one to the other gives us a different look,” Cantarella said. “I’ve seen teams where one girl throws every single pitch and that girl ends up having arm problems. I don’t want to have a girl having health issues down the road. I like having two girls who throw. I never really had one girl who pitched every single inning.”

While there might be two people pitching, there will be only one catcher, much like there has been for the previous three seasons.

Senior CherylAnn Nicosia returns for her final go-round behind the dish for the Bucs. Nicosia, a former Observer Athlete of the Week honoree, is a four-year starter at catcher. Nicosia batted .519 with 28 hits and 16 RBI last season.

“With Cherylann at catcher, I never have to worry about a thing,” Cantarella said. “It’s a relief for me, a burden off my back. She takes care of everything back there. She has such great knowledge of the game. She calls the game and I let her do her thing. It’s a joy to coach her. We are in sync with each other.”

The first base duties will be shared by junior AnneMarie Smith and basketball standout Janelle Ramirez.

“They are both capable at first base,” Cantarella said.

Second base will be shared by seniors Krystal Medina and Ariana Ruiz. Medina has been part of the Belleville varsity softball team for three years.

Shortstop duties are shared by junior Janelle McCann and senior Jennifer Garrido, who is really the team’s resident utility player. McCann hit .410 last season.

“Garrido is a tough, strong kid who is going to help the middle of our lineup,” Cantarella said.

Junior Nathalie Marin is a returning starter at third base. Marin hit .368 last season.

Junior Ruqaya Embaby and senior Angie Rivera add depth to third base.

Junior Fiorella Samaniego is the team’s left fielder. She moves from right field, where she played last season, to left field this year.

“She’s quick and runs like a deer,” Cantarella said. “She also has a strong arm.”

Senior Jehann Dabon is the team’s returning starter in centerfield. Dabon, also the point guard on Cantarella’s basketball team in the winter months, batted .508 with 29 runs scored last season.

“She’s our leadoff hitter,” Cantarella said. “She covers a lot of ground in the outfield. She gets on base a lot and becomes a threat to steal bases. She also brings a lot of positive energy to the team.”

Right field duties will be shared by Garrido, senior Christina Gibson and junior Esmeh Embaby, who gained a reputation for being one of the school’s first-ever female wrestlers last winter.

Seniors Myranda Laabes and Elly Barbosa are capable bench players. Laabes is the team’s back-up catcher and middle infielder. Barbosa is more of a designated hitter.

The Buccaneers are off on a brief trip to Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando for six scrimmage games this week. They return home to open the 2019 season against Payne Tech April 1 and face Glen Ridge April 3.

“I absolutely have a lot of high hopes for this season,” Cantarella said. “We return every starter from last year. We have good experienced players. We should do just fine.”




The Belleville softball team looks to be vastly improved from last year’s six-win team. Front row, from left, are Jennifer Garrido, Krystal Medina, Jehann Dabon and Ariana Ruiz. Back row, from left are Angie Rivera, Myranda Laabes, Janelle Ramirez, Elly Barbosa, CherylAnn Nicosia and head coach Chris Cantarella. Photo by Jim Hague



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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.”