The 2018 softball season had started a little slowly, at least in the annals of Immaculate Heart Academy. But the Eagles, with a young nucleus after the graduation last spring of stars Ally Dudek, Olivia Sprofera, Reese Guevarra, Reagan Jones, Sonia Sharma and Caroline Ventor have begun to find its footing as April turns into May.
The song ‘Do you know the way to San Jose?‘ could have a ‘Do you know the way to IHA?’ ring to it. And fans know the way to IHA means a high level of softball, which has resulted in three straight Non-Public A championships and the first Tournament of Champions crown last spring, in dramatic fashion, over Lodi Immaculate, in extra innings.
IHA’s 2018 early season schedule included setbacks against powerful Donovan Catholic, as well as Montgomery, St. John Vianney and Indian Hills.
Head coach Diana Fasano enjoys playing strong competition, and despite the team’s 1-3 start, the coach never wavered. Heading into this week’s action, IHA had won five straight and six of seven to improve to 9-5. The only loss during that run was a 2-0 setback to Watching Hills, at the Black and Gold Tournament in Cedar Grove. But later that evening, IHA played a second game at the Black and Gold and won a thriller over the host school, 2-0, in 10 grueling innings.
Read more about the IHA-Cedar Grove game here.
That game clearly has boosted the Eagles’ confidence and began the five game winning streak.
“We are starting to fire on all cylinders, playing good defense and hitting the ball offensively,” said Fasano. “We’re scoring runs, and pitching well. I’m looking forward to continuing to play together as a team and build on this foundation.
“You have to remember that we lost a lot of talented kids to graduation last season. And when you play some of the teams we have this season, it’s going to take time. Donovan Catholic has a tremendous team. They were the younger team the past two seasons (when the schools met for the Non-Public A crown) and this year, they’re the more experienced team. But we’re getting better.”
The pitching has been paced by sophomore right hander Ryleigh White, aka ‘Citation‘, a power pitcher who recorded 20 strikeouts in a complete game win over Cedar Grove and fanned 19 last week, in a victory over Paramus Catholic.
Ryleigh White, here with Cedar Grove’s Mia Faieta and sporting identical ice bags on their right shoulders after a great game at the Black and Gold Tournament. (Click on photo for larger image)
White’s batterymate is junior Mia Recenello, aka ‘The Natural‘. Recenello’s heroics in the win over Cedar Grove included an RBI triple in the top of the tenth inning to start a two run rally, as well as sliding head first into home plate with the game’s second run.
Mia Recenello and her family after the Black and Gold Tournament in Cedar Grove. ‘The Natural’ seems to thrive on the spotlight of big games. (Click on photo for larger image)
Senior centerfielder Danica Yatko has been a catalyst to the team, with her speed and ability to get on base regulary. She’s also become a dynamic defensive player and has robbed a few opponents of homers with the ability to lean over the fence and make improbable catches. And it was Yatko’s clutch squeeze bunt which plated Recenello with the insurance run, against Cedar Grove.
Danica Yatko has had a very good season at the plate, and in the field, for IHA in 2018.
Even when Yatko makes an out, it’s news. When Danica was called out on a close play on the basepaths, in a recent game, the outrage was noticeable. (In a comical way). One fan yelled, ‘That’s Danica!’, in mock disappointment after she appeared to beat a grounder to first, but was called out. Yatko will attend San Diego State this fall.
The underclassmen have been key. Lindsay Gilchrist, a junior, is pitching very well for the Eagles, including a solid effort in the Watchung Hills game. She also plays in the outfield, when not pitching. Sophomore first baseman Cat Thomas continues to play well on defense and wields a dangerous bat. Second baseman Emily Gyongyosi, a junior, made a big play in the Cedar Grove game to save a run, and possibly the game, in the sixth inning. Ashlynn Corra, a sophomore, has taken over the third base responsibilities and is doing an excellent job.
Senior shortstop Kylie Carr, who will play at Manhattan College this fall, has three years varsity experience for the Eagles while another senior, Kelsey Agnew, is a reliable outfielder with a really good arm.
Winning a fourth straight Non-Public A title and a second straight berth in the Tournament of Champions won’t be easy. Mount St. Dominic will once again be a formidable opponent in the North, and the South is absolutely loaded, with Donovan Catholic, St. John Vianney and Notre Dame of Lawrenceville among the top teams.
But for now, all Fasano’s squad can do is take care of business and get better with each game. And it appears that old mojo has returned…..
It’s always good to know The Way to IHA.