St. Joseph softball ready for another deep playoff run

The St. Joseph High School softball team gained valuable experience last year, has a plethora of experience coming back and is hungry yet again this year. And that’s a scary thought for the rest of the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

Last season, the Cadets, with a talented but young team, still found greatness and captured the FCIAC championship by blasting Darien 12-1. They also reached the CIAC class M semifinals before falling 1-0 to East Haven.

St. Joe’s is returning all but two spots from last year’s standout season and head coach Jeff Babineau has high hopes that this year’s team will be making another run and both championships.

“We are returning a lot of experience,” Babineau said. “We bring back seven starters from last year and all played from the FCIAC championships to the state semis. Pitching is back and both are very talented. We are excited.”

Leading the team, both on and off the field, will be senior captains Lauren Pitney, Amy Chacho, Katie Gardella and Jenna Carrano.

“We chose all four seniors this year and they each have a job,” Babineau said. “They are each doing a great job and there’s a certain part of the team that each handle. [Lauren] Pitney is our on-field captain and we expect her to manage the team and get them fired up.”

“It’s great to be a leader here,” Pitney said. “I like how I’m a role model to a lot of the younger kids. I have to lead by example this year and I hope it turns out good.”

A key to the team’s success this season will be its pitching.

Leading the way will be junior standout Nicole Williams, as the All-State and All-FCIAC hurler went 22-2 last season with an incredible 0.57 ERA. She had 174 strikeouts on the season and finished with 12 shutouts.

“We expect a lot out of Nicole,” Babineau said. “She lost two games last year by 1-0 scores. “Nicole has five pitches that she throws but we only concentrate on three. She has a great screwball, a great changeup, a hard curve, can go upstairs on the riseball and has a nice drop if we need it.”

Backing up Williams will be sophomore Madeline Meyer, who went a perfect 3-0 last year and finished with a 0.28 ERA.

“Madeline is going to be amazing for us,” Babineau said. “She’s very talented and is only a few miles per hour away from Nicole. It’s hard because you only put out one pitcher, but the way kids get sick, injury and illness, I think we are prepared. We pitch both of them a lot.”

All around the diamond will be threats, both with the bat and on defense.

No one is more dangerous than shortstop Pitney. Last year she finished with 45 hits and had a .479 average. In addition to her All-FCIAC and All-State honors, Pitney finished last year with 100 career hits for the Cadets.

“I think we are going to do great this year,” Pitney said. “There’s a lot of upperclassmen this year and we have a couple of freshmen that are going to help us. We are going to be a good pitching team and good hitting team again. I am not going to try and bring too much here. I am going to play my game and hopefully the team feeds off it and do well. I can’t wait.”

Joining Pitney along the infield will be four-year starter Gardella at the hot corner, sophomore Hanna Errico at second, sophomore Melissa Bike at first and catching will be sophomore Jovanna Hillman.

The SJHS outfield will be just as strong, as Chacho will return and lead the way at right field. Last year the four-year starter finished with a .309 batting average and is projected to be the fifth hitter in the lineup this season.

Moving from the catcher position, where she hit .397 and reached All-FCIAC status last year, to left field will be junior Lauren Blose. Joining Blose will be newcomer Hannah Hutchison, as the freshman is slated to play center this season for the Cadets. Also seeing time in the outfield will be Carrano, as she will be the utility outfielder and see time in both left and center.

“Our strength this year is definitely going to be our pitching,” Babineau said. “Another strength will be our defense. We are going to be really strong there I think and we also hit really well. The team speed is also going to be a plus for us this season, as it’s going to be better than last year.”

For Babineau, in order for the Cadets to be successful, he wants them to figure out how to win those close contests.

“We need to win those 1-0 games and learn how to win those games,” the head coach said. “We need to learn how to win those games, not just playing in those games. I think last year we sat back a little bit, got to those big games and didn’t play as well. This year my expectations are that we will step up big in those games, which will make all the difference.”

With the amount of returns back from last year and the strength up and down the roster, the Cadets are looking to make another deep playoff run this season.

“We always want to be in the mix for the FCIAC and State final,” Babineau said. “That’s our goal every year and I don’t think this is any different this year. I think we have the talent to get there this year, they have the work ethic and also the experience. Last year we had five freshmen that we were using in different spots and now they are all sophomores. They grow. We are cautiously optimistic this season.”