Immaculate Heart Academy has been playing tremendous softball in 2016, which isn’t exactly breaking news, but the Eagles’ steady pursuit of the ultimate prizes, including conference, county and state championships, is a testimony to a good coaching staff and a group of players who are never satisfied.
The 2015 Eagles won what was considered a somewhat unlikely title, with a roster of all underclassmen. The confidence grew for the team throughout that season, and it culminated with a Non-Public A championship.
A year later, the team returned with the same players, but even more determination. And after an early season loss to DePaul, 4-3, IHA (19-1) has won 18 straight going into this week’s games.
Head coach Diana Fasano’s team’s most recent victory came against Fair Lawn, 6-0, in the quarterfinals of the Bergen County Tournament, on May 15. Once again, the pitching was solid, as Olivia Sprofera (Southpaw Seattle Slew) pitched a two-hitter, with nine strikeouts. It was IHA’s third straight shutout, with Slew pitching two of them.
Consider this, as well. The last time a team scored more than one run in a game against IHA was on April 11, (16 games ago), and the Eagles won that game, 12-2. Since then, there have been nine shutouts, with Sprofera and Sarah Siclari handling the bulk of the pitching.
At the plate, junior third baseman Reagan Jones was 3-for-3 in the win over Fair Lawn. Jones’ speed on the base paths, good defense and a consistent bat makes IHA’s overall lineup one of the toughest in the state.
And if you want pure defense, IHA seems to thrive on the pressure-packed games, where big plays are vital. Just watch senior shortstop Taylor Kenerson’s energy level, on the field, rise to a new plateau, when the game is on line.
Fasano has been pleased with her team’s effort, but is far from content.
“It’s tournament time,” said Fasano. “You cannot take anything for granted. No one can be overlooked, because everyone wants to win a county and/or state championship. No team gets handed a championship, it needs to be earned, and it’s never easy. ”
The team concept, something which can always be a challenge for a new head coach, has applied well for Fasano.
“I think we are doing very well as a team,” Fasano said. “Everyone is working together very well to get the job done. The team’s focus is good. They know what is on the line. Of course I am always there to remind them, but they are hungry to win.”
IHA has a busy week, with games against Paramus, Mahwah and Ramapo, before traveling to Ivy Hill Park on May 19, for a night game against Newark Academy. The Bergen County semifinals are set for May 21, when IHA takes on a hot Dumont team. A win there moves the Eagles into the title game, a day later, against either Northern Highlands or Indian Hills, as IHA looks for its first county title in three years.