FCIAC Softball preview: Dominant St. Joseph has plenty of challengers
Published 1:15 pm, Wednesday, April 6, 2016
The top of the FCIAC softball field is loaded with teams that belong in the state top 10.
The question is will the St. Joseph team run the table to an unbeaten regular season as it did last year?
The Cadets are the two-time defending FCIAC champions and return a wealth of talent, but nipping at their heels are equally talented teams at Stamford, Westhill and Trumbull.
Not to mention teams like Darien, Wilton, New Canaan, Ridgefield, Ludlowe, Warde and Danbury who will all be in contention for one of the remaining playoff spots, and the league looks as tough as ever.
Running that gauntlet unblemished again will not be easy for the Cadets but if anyone can accomplish that lofty goal it is the Cadets.
Several Division-I players left for college but filling their shoes are equally, if not more impressive players all over the league.
Teams To Watch
PLAYERS TO WATCH BY TEAM
McMahon: Mackenzie Stamp, Danielle Bonis, Stephanie Mangels, Arianna D’agostina, Jenna Casoli
Danbury: Melissa Jakubowski, Alanna Bellantoni, Emily Bogues, Alex Cooke, Alyssa Timan
St. Joseph: Nicole Williams, Jovanna Hillman, Melissa Bike, Hanna Errico, Kayla Giacobbe
Darien: Cassie Lopiano, Lexi Lopiano, Sophia Barbour, Kristen Picard, Cassidy Schiff.
Greenwich: Cate Decker, Dominique Gambino, Alexa Guerrieri, Sami Scordo, Julia Greco
New Canaan: Rachel Keshin, Molly Keshin, Gillian Kane, Molly Rochlin, Gabriella Sulpizi,
Trumbull: Haley Komorowski, Delilah Destefano, Courtney Fairfield, Kristen Appleby, Ally Szabo
Westhill: Jordan Benzaken, Kaira Ramon, Olivia Butler, SS Gabby Laconna, Edyliese Aquino, Adriana Gambino,
Norwalk: Sam Troetti, Dina DiBlasio, Jessica Otto, Jessica Giglio, Skylar Suda.
Staples: Emily Lustbader, Nicola Schanck, Gillian Birk, Taylor Rocklin, Gabriella Perry
Wilton: Sage Zunda, Eliza Ward, Taylor Floyd, Julia Schiavone, Sophia Strazza,
Ridgefield: Gwen Ellis, Meghan Hyatt, Kendall Rogoff, Sydnie Demarco, Kailey Westington
Stamford: Maddie Santora, Ali Buzzeo, Lauren O’Neill, Maria Zecena, Tori Cuscuna
Trinity Catholic: Julianna Fauci, Sarah Jablonsky, Heather Fraioli, Samantha Calicchio, Kelly Cullen
Warde: Gabby Natoli, Emma Houghton
ST. JOSEPH: The Cadets are the two-time defending FCIAC champions and it will be quite difficult to knock them from their perch. Not only do they return the All-State battery of Nicole Williams and Jovanna Hillman, they also bring back five other starters including 1B Melissa Bike (.465 BA, 28 RBI) and SS Hanna Errico (.418 BA) in a modern-day murderer’s row.
STAMFORD: Stamford had the tying run at third base in the sixth inning of last year’s FCIAC championship game but fell 2-1 to St. Joe’s. With the core of that team back, the Black Knights want to not just return to the final, but bring home the trophy. Along with ace pitcher Sara Staley, OF Maria Zecena, OF Lauren O’Neill (.438 BA, All-FCIAC), 3B Maddie Santora and C Tori Cuscuna are back in a stacked lineup for the Knights.
WESTHILL: The Vikings return a solid core of players from last year’s team that went 14-4 in league play. Along with power-hitting first baseman Kaira Ramon, All-FCIAC OF Adriana Gambino is also back in the Vikings lineup. If sophomore pitcher Juliana Tarzia can control games and the Westhill lineup picks up where it left off last season, the Vikings will be a tough out.
TRUMBULL: The Eagles have six seniors and eight juniors coming back from a team that went 13-5 in the FCIAC last season, making the league playoffs. With all that experience coming back, Trumbull expects to compete for a top-four seed in the FCIAC dance this time around.
NEW CANAAN: The Rams missed the playoffs last season, but with a talented crop of young players, are hoping to change that this year. The Rams will lean on University of Virginia-commits Molly and Rachel Keshin. Molly hit .491 and Rachel batted .457 a season ago. If the Rams want back in the playoffs they are going to rely on sophomore P Gillian Kane who struck out 59 batters in 45 innings splitting time in the circle last season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
NICOLE WILLIAMS, ST. JOSEPH: Very few batters got to Williams last year and the All-FCIAC and All-State pitcher is back for more. Last year she went 23-1 with a 0.82 ERA and 12 shutouts. Oh, and she also batted .434 with three home runs.
SARA STALEY, STAMFORD: As a sophomore, Staley was named All-FCIAC and All-State last season. In her breakout campaign Staley recorded a 16-6 record with 127 strikeouts, helping lead Stamford to the FCIAC championship game. She also hit .261.
JOVANNA HILLMAN, ST. JOSEPH: Hillman is probably the best catcher in the state, earning All-FCIAC and All-State honors a season ago. She hit .478 with three home runs and 40 RBI.
KAIRA RAMON, WESTHILL: Ramon, an All-FCIAC selection last season, may carry the biggest stick in the FCIAC. The first baseman has the power to put it over the fence, but is just as content ripping line drives all over the field.
SAGE ZUNDA, WILTON: The junior batted .508 with 24 RBI last season but her real value comes in the circle. Zunda rang up 80 strikeouts a season ago. If she can improve on those numbers Wilton could make a run at a FCIAC playoff spot.
GAMES TO WATCH
APRIL 13, ST. JOSEPH AT TRUMBULL: Trumbull believes it belongs in the conversation with the top teams in the league. They get a chance early on, facing crosstown rival St. Joe’s to see where they stand.
APRIL 15, DARIEN AT NEW CANAAN: Darien and New Canaan could have a staring contest and it would be fun to watch. Both teams have a chance at a FCIAC playoff berth and could well be competing with each other for that spot.
APRIL 27, STAMFORD AT ST. JOSEPH: Stamford was that close to knocking off the Cadets in the final last year. Staley vs. Williams is a must-watch pitching matchup with each team having big enough bats to get to either ace.
APRIL 25, WILTON AT RIDGEFIELD: The border rivals each have their sights set on making the league playoffs, making this already heated game even more interesting.
APRIL 29, WESTHILL AT STAMFORD: Softball is at its best when both Stamford public schools are good, and both are very good this year.