When asked about the biggest difference from last season to this one, Harrison softball coach Keith Mair can sum it up with one word – confidence.
“There’s more confidence,” Mair said. “They’re older, most of them started on varsity as freshmen and sophomores so now we have seniors and juniors. There’s definitely a higher level of confidence in them.”
Harrison returns seven starters from last year’s 4-16 team, several of them three-year starters.
One of those three-year starters is junior pitcher Danica Carr. Carr, struck out 79 batters in 83 innings and is showing signs of further improvement from last yet.
“She’s definitely more confident in herself,” said Mair. “She’s added a couple more pitches so she’s definitely in a different mindset going into this year as compared to last year.”
Freshman Madison Morales and sophomore Ally Carbajal will also see time in the circle for the Blue Tide.
Back at catcher is senior Janiyah Gutierrez, who hit .310 last with three home runs, 18 RBI and 12 stolen bases.
“I sometimes call her my bench coach because she likes to give advice,” Mair said of the three-year starter and team captain. “She definitely has the tools to play the game and she’s very confident in herself.”
One big addition to the team is shortstop Hailey Scocco, a transfer from Woodbridge. The sophomore’s arrival has transformed the infield, especially after the graduation of senior captain Emily Leiras.
“Hailey’s got all the tools,” Mair said. “She’s already started tearing the cover off the ball. She’s got a cannon for an arm, and has got very good range.
“Last year, that was our hole when we lost Emily so her coming in and filling in on the infield has made it a lot more solid. I think the team is starting to feed off of her.”
Sophomore Rebecca Sardiha is set to take over at second base after seeing some time late last season. Junior Samantha Guerrero will vie for time at second and in the outfield.
Seniors Juliet Marrero and Xmarys Liranzo are competing for the starting first base spot, while Samantha Montedeosca (12 RBI) is a three-year starter at third.
Another three-year starter is Amaree Andujar in left field. Andujar hit .306 with 14 RBI, 13 runs, 11 walks and 17 stolen bases at the top of the Blue Tide lineup.
“She can move, she’s a leadoff hitter. She gets on base and she has a lot of speed,” said Mair. “She can track balls very well.”
Junior Isabella Steffans returns at centerfield and is poised for a big year after hitting .286 with 17 stolen bases and a team-high 16 runs scored last season. Junior Elizabeth Faulk, who led the team in walks (23) and stolen bases (20), is the returning starter at right field.
Amberlysse Cortez will also vie for at-bats in the outfield while also serving as the backup catcher.
As a whole, Mair thinks Harrison will be improved on defense, which could be the difference between qualifying for the state tournament for the first time since 2018.
“We’ve been talking during the preseason how the last two years we’ve given up so many extra outs on easy ground balls, popups in the infield, foul balls that could have been caught,” Mair said. “We’ve stressed that and you see the girls making those easy plays right now and how much that’s going to change a game without giving up all of those extra outs.”
The Blue Tide open the season on Tuesday, April 4 against Manchester Regional. A road game at Secaucus and a home contest with Newark East Side follow the next two days.
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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.)