Kearny softball: Going through a major rebuild

At the end of the 2018 high school softball season, Kearny head coach Jimmy Pickel believed he had a nucleus of a returning team, even though he was losing five starters to graduation.

Then, disaster struck.

Three players who Pickel thought to be returning decided not to play for one reason or another.

It meant that Pickel had to do a major rebuild to a program that perennially was one of the best in Hudson County over the last decade.

“It really hit a nerve,” Pickel said.

But Pickel trudged on, knowing full well that he had to comprise a roster with the players that were remaining.

Pickel remains optimistic, thanks to the efforts of the young ladies who remain with the Kardinals’ softball program.

One of those key performers is junior Olivia Montanino, who will be the Kardinals’ starting pitcher this season.

Pickel is singing Montanino’s praises.

“She’s the life of the team,” Pickel said of Montanino. “She’s been very energizing and gets everyone else up. She’s throwing strikes. She’s doing a great job.”

The Kardinals have two catchers in junior Alexandra Cruz and freshman Mikalah Franchino, although Pickel has been using Franchino in the outfield a little to get her bat in the lineup.

The Kards had a stellar catcher in All-Hudson County and All-Group IV performer Tatianna Fermaint, but she has graduated.

“You get spoiled when you have someone like her for three years,” Pickel said of Fermaint.

Junior Caitlyn Natosi returns to her position at first base.

“We’re counting on her big time,” Pickel said. “She’s our No. 3 hitter. I hope she drives in runs for us.”

Freshman Natalie Vieira is the team’s second baseman.

Pickel is very high on the newcomer.

“This girl plays softball 12 months a year,” Pickel said. “She doesn’t play anything else. She’s one of the most experienced players we have. She plays travel ball all the time. She’s extremely coachable. She’s done well in our scrimmages and she’s not intimidated at all. I’m excited to see what she can do.”

The shortstop is junior Kristina Yaya, who was the starter at shortstop last year. Yaya will become the Kardinals’ leadoff hitter this year.

“She’s showing good leadership skills,” Pickel said. “She’s going to be a good leadoff hitter.”

The third baseman is junior Jordalis Liranzo, who is a transfer from Harrison, where she was an All-NJIC honoree last season.

“She fits in real nicely with us,” Pickel said. “The ball jumps off her bat.”

Junior Phoenix Jackson is a fixture in the outfield. Jackson was the starter in left field last year, but she may move to centerfield this year.

A trio of seniors, namely Ariyonna Alves, Mia Jimenez and Angelica Cimirro, are all battling for playing time in the outfield.

Freshman Carly Natosi, Caitlyn’s younger sister, is another player coming off the bench for the Kardinals.

The Kardinals open their season Monday against Bayonne. They will face Ferris April 3 and will play in the Anthony LaRezza Memorial Tournament at Branch Brook Park in Newark April 6-8.

Needless to say, the Kardinals will know what they’re made of in the early part of the season. They also have independent games against Millburn and Piscataway later in the season.

“We try to get to play teams we’ve never played before,” Pickel said.

As for playing games inside the confines of Hudson County?

“I think we should be competitive in the league,” Pickel said.

Even with the rebuild, Pickel remains optimistic. It’s a winning approach that has worked for years and could very well be effective this season for the Kardinals.




The Kearny softball team will look to its seniors to lead the way this season. From left are head coach Jimmy Pickel, senior Angelica Cimirro, senior Ariyonna Alves and assistant coach Caroline Carp. 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.”