With a new season comes hope and optimism, even if there is some uncertainty mixed in.
In the case of Lyndhurst’s softball team, even after sustaining some key losses via graduation and injury, there is still a lot to be positive about heading into the upcoming season.
So while the Golden Bears have to fill the void left by the graduation of standouts Gianna Alberti and Alexa Borino among others, they do return several significant pieces from last year’s 19-7 squad, which went undefeated in the NJIC Liberty Division, perhaps none more important than four-year starting pitcher Emma Tozduman.
Tozduman, one of four senior captains this season, overcame early-season arm soreness to deliver a big year, striking out 142 batters in 121 innings, highlighted by a 17-strikeout perfect game against Secaucus.
“She’s a standout in the circle,” third-year head coach Sara Fusco said. “She just throws every single pitch with heart.”
Fusco also has the luxury of also being able to rely on promising sophomore Emily Reed to pitch as well. Even when Reed takes the ball in the circle, Tozduman will still be featured prominently in the lineup as she had 69 hits and 62 RBI for her career.
Whoever is pitching, will be throwing to a new battery mate as captain Meghan Docherty, a four-year starter at catcher is out for the year due to a knee injury suffered during basketball season.
In Docherty’s place will be another senior captain as Stephanie Mizeski shifts over from first base to take over behind the plate. While it is Mizeski’s first time at the position, Fusco has been pleased with how she has adapted to the new role.
“It’s difficult (replacing Meghan), especially when you know that having a veteran behind the plate makes everyone’s job easier,” said Fusco. “But so far, (Stephanie) looks great there. She’s working hard, she moves really quickly (behind the plate), so I think we’ll be ok.”
Mizeski was one of the Golden Bears’ top hitters a year ago with 33 hits and 33 runs scored.
Another big bat at a new position is senior captain Jaylene Rivera, who moves over from third base to shortstop. Rivera led the team with six homers a season ago to go with 33 hits, 37 runs and 33 RBI.
At third base will be junior Leah Ricigliano, a JV player a year ago, who is primed for a breakthrough season.
“Leah Ricigliano looks really good at third base,” Fusco said. “She has been working really hard and was on JV last season, but has looked great.”
The right side of the infield is a little more up in the air. Sophomores Serena Berges and Bryanna Pando are in the mix at first base, while second base will likely feature Carolyne Moody and freshman Samantha Mayer.
Senior Reanna Ricigliano returns at left field with sophomore Kiera Docherty in center. Right field is also a competition with Mooney, Mayer, Hannah Opalinski and freshman Madeline Turano all set to see plenty of time in the outfield this spring.
Lyndhurst opens the season with five-straight home games, starting with Park Ridge on Friday, April 1, followed by an April 2 showdown with reigning North 1, Group 1 winner Emerson and an April 4 clash with Hudson Catholic, the defending Hudson County champions. They open division play on the sixth against runner-up Butler.
The Golden Bears will also challenge themselves later in the year with a showcase game against reigning Bergen County champion Ramapo on April 23 in Cedar Grove and an independent game at Nutley, last year’s Essex County Tournament finalist, on May 5.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)