Three wins within the first 10 days of the season might not seem like much for some programs. For the Harrison softball team, these three victories mean everything.
Sunday’s 10-4 victory over Paterson Charter at the Weehawken Autism Tournament gave the Blue Tide a 3-1 record to begin the season. In less than two weeks of play, Harrison has already won more games in a year than it has since 2018.
And while this season is still in its infancy, the annual goal of making the state tournament suddenly feels more realistic than it has in a very long time for Harrison, which lacks a feeder system so most of its players come to high school with little to no softball experience.
“(To make the state tournament) would be tremendous, to even get close is going to be tremendous for them,” head coach Keith Mair said. “If we can come up with 10, 11 wins it will be such a tremendous boost. This start is already huge, it’s exciting for them.”
Most impressively, Harrison has done it with just one senior — Emily Leiras — who just returned on Sunday from a knee injury suffered during basketball season.
As a four-year player and the starting shortstop and cleanup hitter, Leiras’ return provides a tremendous boost in all aspects of the game.
“The (younger girls) definitely look up to her and as soon as she comes on the field it’s a different energy,” Mair said. “She brings energy, gets them going and motivates them even more. I put her right at short, (moving) left or right she gets to everything and is making throws. All of a sudden the infield got better.”
The outfield defense also improves as it allows junior Amaree Andujar to use her speed in the outfield. Andujar, who hits leadoff, leads the team in runs (six), while also posting seven RBI and seven stolen bases.
Andujar joins a now deep outfield in sophomores Elizabeth Faulk (seven walks, nine stolen bases), Isabella Steffans (seven stolen bases) and Samantha Guerrero, as well as junior Xamarys Liranzo.
Liranzo, who didn’t play softball last year, doesn’t truly have a set position, but her impact at the plate is too great to ignore as shown by her two home run, seven RBI performance on Friday against Bergen Charter.
“She’s very athletic, but she can’t find her niche on the field, but she does everything at 110-percent,” Mair said “And when she’s at the plate and she swings, that ball just goes. She makes contact and the ball flies.”
Junior catcher Janiyah Gutierrez currently leads the team with eight RBI in just 15 at-bats. Yulenny DeLeon and Nalani Arboleda share first base, sophomore Ruth Marca is at second base and Samantha Montedosca is at third.
In the circle is sophomore Danica Carr, who just started pitching a year ago
“We wouldn’t have won a game last year without her. We came into last season without a pitcher or even a girl that could reach the plate,” Mair said. “Danica stepped up and decided she wanted to do it and her parents started getting lessons from (my now current assistant) Ashley Latushko. She was taking lessons from her and her pitching every day is just getting better and better.”
Carr has 22 strikeouts in 18 innings this year, just three fewer punch outs than she had last season. Arboleda, a sophomore, also pitches, and picked up the win on Friday against Bergen Charter.
While the excitement of the 3-1 start is noticeable, Mair knows that this young roster still has plenty of room to grow. While he cautions that there are bound to be more setbacks, especially as the schedule gets more challenging, Mair is confident that they’ll put in the work needed to challenge for goals that seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago.
“It feels great to already be better (than last year), but we have a lot of work to get done and a lot of areas we still need to improve on,” Mair said. “They’re a young team who are still learning the game day by day.”
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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.)