Belleville’s brilliant backstop Nicosia: A cut above the rest

For the last three-plus years, Belleville High School head softball coach Chris Cantarella has enjoyed an incredible luxury.

During that time, Cantarella has pulled out a blank lineup card, gets to the third line on the card and pencils in the name of catcher Cherylann Nicosia, the brilliant Belleville backstop.

“Without a doubt, it’s the one thing I never have to worry about,” Cantarella said. “She does it all. She’s a great leader, a vocal leader. She’s attentive and is always two pitches ahead of the batter. She’s very intelligent and tells the pitchers to throw the ball where it’s supposed to be and she does that. Her knowledge of softball is so incredible that for the most part, I leave calling the whole game all up to her.”

How about this for a statistic?

“In the three and a quarter years that we’ve been together, I’ve second guessed six pitches that she called for,” Cantarella said.

Wait a minute. Six pitches? In more than three years?
“Yeah, that sounds about right,” Nicosia laughed. “I think it helps that we’re always on the same page. It’s always been that way between the two of us.”

Nicosia said that her job as the emotional and physical fortress for the Buccaneers has become easier over the years.

“I think it helps that everyone on the team is really close,” Nicosia said. “We’re like sisters. I knew that we were going to have a really good season. It means a lot to me to take the leadership of this team.”

When someone watches the Buccaneers play, it’s not hard to pick out which player is the strength of the squad. Nicosia is the one who is leading the players to their positions during pregame warm-up drills. She’s the one who is helping a freshman with a batting glove issue or instructing another on the proper shoes to wear on artificial turf. It appears as if the entire world is evolving around Cherylann Nicosia – and frankly, in the eyes of Belleville softball, it does.

Nicosia said that she just loves being a catcher.

“I always feel comfortable behind the plate,” Nicosia said. “I feel like it’s my home. I know that I do my part to protect it like it is my home. I like being involved with every single play. It makes the game even more interesting. It is my home.”

“I think more people are impressed with the way she carries herself behind the plate, more than they are with her as a hitter,” Cantarella said. “She’s social with the opposition. She talks to umpires. She’s very friendly with everyone. Her defense really stands out.”

Nicosia likes the relationship she enjoys with her head coach.

“I really love the freedom he gives me,” Nicosia said. “It gives me a lot of room to experiment with some things. I mean, we’re always on the same page.”
The comfort zone leads to a more confident catcher.

“I feel a lot more confident this year,” Nicosia said. “Every time I come up to bat, I know I have my entire team behind me. There was a time that I thought I lost a little of my confidence. But I am more confident now. Every time I get into the batter’s box, I try to clear my mind and concentrate on hitting. If I make an out, then I clear my mind and focus on the next at-bat.”

The approach has obviously been working for the brilliant Buccaneer backstop.

For the season, Nicosia is batting a robust .529, which is just a tad better than the .519 average she posted last season. She has already produced 18 hits, including the 100th hit of her storied career, and 16 runs batted in. She has enjoyed four games with at least three RBI.

“She’s been hitting the ball very solid,” Cantarella said. “She hits the ball hard every time up. She’s been swinging the bat the best I’ve ever seen from her. This is what you want your senior leader to do, performing both on and off the field.”

In one game last week against East Orange, Nicosia had three hits, including a triple, three RBI and five runs scored. In each of her last four games, Nicosia has delivered at least two hits, scored at least two runs and had at least two RBI. For the week, Nicosia had nine hits in 17 at-bats, which is also the exact batting average she has accrued for the season, namely .529.

And for her efforts, Nicosia has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week. It was the second time in her illustrious career that Nicosia earned the weekly honor. She was also named Athlete of the Week in the May 16 editions of The Observer.

More importantly, the Buccaneers are currently 10-0 after defeating Harrison on Thursday afternoon.

So the Bucs are unbeaten and their senior catcher and leader is having a phenomenal season.

“It’s definitely been a lot of fun,” Nicosia said. “I’m having a great opportunity to enjoy my senior year. It’s so exciting.”

Nicosia said that it meant a lot to her to secure the 100th hit of her career, a milestone that very few players can achieve during their high school days. Nicosia got the 100th hit April 6 against West Orange.

“Coach Cantarella kept reminding me that I was close,” Nicosia said. “Everyone had posters made for me. It was such a thrill.”

It was also a big moment when Nicosia decided to attend Springfield College in Massachusetts beginning in the fall.

“It just felt like home,” Nicosia said. “I took a visit and said that I could see myself playing here for the next four years. It was a nice connection for me. I liked the fact that I was going someplace fresh and new.”

Just like home, where Nicosia has always belonged.




Belleville senior catcher Cherylann Nicosia. 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.”