Softball: St. Joseph's culture of excellence in place
Defending FCIAC and Class M state champion St. Joseph High will look for more postseason success this spring.
Coach Jeff Babineau has good reason for optimism.
For starters, the Cadets have won the conference in four of the last five years.
And, although significant, the loss of just two graduates means a bulk of experience is back in the fold.
St. Joe’s went 23-4 overall a year ago, defeating Trumbull 6-0 in the FCIAC final and defeating Griswold 5-2 in the Class M pinnacle game.
“We have created a culture of excellence on and off the field,” Babineau said. “The players work very hard lifting and conditioning all year long as well working at their individual parts of the game. Our players know the goals never change each season — it’s one game at a time, which in the end of a 28-game season will add up to a successful one.
“We look at it as three parts, regular season, playoffs and states as the ultimate goal.”
Hannah Hutchison (center field) and Kayla Giacobbe (second base) graduated, leaving big shoes to fill. “Both outstanding players and leaders,” said Babineau, noting that they are each 100-hit club members.
Senior first baseman Kaitlin Capobianco is the team’s captain and among the leaders between the lines as well as outside of them. She hit .373 as a junior. “Four-year starter, excellent defensive first baseman, high softball IQ,” Babineau said.
Top returnees include two-year starting pitcher Payton Doiron, who has been to the state finals in each of those years; sophomore shortstop Maddie Fitzgerald, who hit .449 as a freshman with 40 hits and 31 runs batted in; junior catcher Charlee Horton who batted .322. and is one of the best defensive catchers around the state, according to Babineau; and junior outfielder Paige Hunter, a speedy outfielder who hits for power.
Kyra McCarthy is a freshman infielder “with tremendous power and slick glove,” Babineau said. “Kyra McCarthy- is a freshman infielder with tremendous power and slick glove.”
Junior Cami Heintz is expected to play third, McCarthy is projected to play second.
The outfield stands to include sophomore Claire Gardella in left, Hunter in center and sophomore Brittany Mairano in right. Senior Alyssa Noce is expected to be the designated player.
“We pride ourselves on our defense and pitching, that’s a staple of our program,” Babineau said. “But if you look at the offensive numbers we produce, hitting isn’t too bad either. We’ll play small ball if necessary.
“The team chemistry is fantastic and these players really work well together and understand it’s a team effort from each individual player,” Babineau said.
Although it might not seem there is much room for improvement given the recent success of the team, Babineau sees a couple areas in which the Cadets can focus on, or that are question marks, going into the slate.
“Our pitching needs to minimize walks during a game,” he said. “We have to see how our second base position works out, and we basically moved our outfield around to accommodate the loss of Hutchison.”
The Cadets again have some challenging out-of-conference games on the schedule.
“We scheduled four tough non-conference games — Masuk, Sheehan, Newtown, and Cheshire,” Babineau said. “This will be a big test of how good we will be or how much work we need to improve. The FCIAC looks to be tough once again. I would expect the same eight playoff teams in the hunt for the championship this year.”
St. Joe will be home to Masuk in its opener Saturday at 1 p.m. Sheehan visits Monday at 4:30. The Cadets visit Newtown Wednesday at 4:30.
Masuk of Monroe won the South-West Conference and Class L titles, Newtown was runner-up in the SWC, Cheshire reached the Class LL state semifinals, and Sheehan of Wallingford made a run to the Class M quarterfinals a year ago.
“Coming off the state championship and the FCIAC championship, I know we are always hunted, but we are excited. Returning as much talent as we do, along with Payton Doiron in the circle, gives us optimism going into the season,” Babineau said.
“I am especially looking forward to this season with this group of talented players. They are teammates that can work well together and create an energy that makes coaching fun and exciting. They know how to win and that will evidently help in the end of the year.”