Softball

Softball 2016: Can Anyone Slow St. Joseph’s Run At 3-Peat?

St. Joseph three-year starter Nicole Williams hopes to add another league title to her resume.

St. Joseph three-year starter Nicole Williams hopes to add another league title to her resume.

When we last left it, the St. Joseph softball team was adding to the program’s resume with a second straight FCIAC title and trip to the state final. The Cadets enter this spring in very similar form to the past two years: key players have graduated but there is a solid nucleus that still has a huge upside.

Can anyone derail the Cadets? The strongest candidates hail from the same city, where defending runner-up Stamford and Westhill remain strong but have a few question marks to iron out.

St. Joseph walked through the league unbeaten last season. It has the potential to do so again, but there is a dangerous minefield to navigate.

The Favorite

St. Joseph. What is separating the Cadets from a three-peat as well as their fourth straight appearance in the FCIAC title game? Right now there might not be a microscope powerful enough to detect flaws. The other league contenders have at least a question mark or two? Sure, St. Joseph graduated All-League players Lauren Pitney and Amy Chacho, but they have been rolling out strong replacements during its recent run. As with any champion, it all starts on the mound for the Cadets, who have three-year starter Nicole Williams (23-1, 0.82 ERA), equally sharp with her bat (.434, 3 home runs). Behind the plate is another decorated player, Jovanna Hillman (.478, three home runs, 40 RBIs). The right side of the infield — first baseman Melissa Bike (.465, 28 RBIs) and second baseman Hanna Errico (.418) — was vastly underrated, and as we have seen with this program, top returning players have a habit of upping their game. The Cadets lost in the state final a year ago, so motivation will not be lacking for this talented group.

Stamford's Lauren O'Neill is one of the league's top players and defensive outfielders.

Stamford’s Lauren O’Neill is one of the league’s top players and defensive outfielders.

The Contenders

Stamford. The Black Knights reached the conference final and the state quarterfinals a year ago, losing a 1-0 heartbreaker to South Windsor in the latter. Sara Staley, coming off a breakout season, is back on the mound, and she will be well supported, starting with centerfielder Lauren O’Neill, one of the best defensive players in team history. There are a number of returning starters, including third baseman Maddie Santora. A few talented underclassmen will be thrust into prominent roles, and the Black Knights will need a healthy Tori Cuscuna, coming off an injury, at full strength behind the plate. There is no reason why Stamford cannot at least equal the accomplishments of a year ago.

Westhill. The Vikings will have few equals offensively, with catcher Jordan Benzaken, first baseman Kaira Ramon and the versatile Adriana Gambino leading the way. Shortstop Gabby Laconna is another mainstay. The big question is whether Westhill is going to need to outscore opponents. Coach Tom Pia is waiting for a reliable No. 1 pitcher to emerge and is wrestling with moving players around to form the best defense. The Vikings don’t open until a week from Monday, so the late start will be a benefit.

The Sleepers

Trumbull. Jacqui Sheftz, who built her alma mater, Masuk, into a state power before resigning two years ago, returns to coaching and the FCIAC this spring with the Eagles. Sheftz, who was at Staples for the 2001-02 seasons, is greeted by a strong lineup that includes pitcher Ally Szabo. Sheftz said she is still toying with positions as she familiarizes herself with her players, but there is proven talent like Taylor Brown, Lea Thompson and a number of returning starters.

Ridgefield. Are the Tigers a true sleeper? They received little preseason acclaim a year ago and ended up finishing fifth in the league. Pitcher Kailey Westington and shortstop Sydnie DeMarco are back to try and take the team up to the next level.

Darien. The Blue Wave had a lot of unknowns after heavy graduation losses, including pitcher Erika Osherow, who went from being a redshirt to now the starter at Virginia. There is a foundation in Lexi Lopiano, who can pitch and play centerfield, leftfielder Cassie Lopiano and shortstop Cassidy Schiff. Based on recent history, it would be foolish to discount Darien.

Ally Szabo is one of Trumbull's talented returning starters.

Ally Szabo is one of Trumbull’s talented returning starters.

Hitting On 21

Jordan Benzaken, Westhill

Melissa Bike, St. Joseph

Taylor Brown, Trumbull

Sydnie DeMarco, Ridgefield

Hanna Errico, St. Joseph

Adriana Gambino, Westhill

Jovanna Hillman, St. Joseph

Molly Keshin, New Canaan

Rachel Keshin, New Canaan

Gabby Laconna, Westhill

Julia Lener, Danbury

Lexi Lopiano, Darien

Lauren O’Neill, Stamford

Gabby Perry, Staples

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Kaira Ramon, Westhill

Brittany Romero, Fairfield Ludlowe

Maddie Santora, Stamford

Sara Staley, Stamford

Ally Szabo, Trumbull

Kailey Westington, Ridgefield

Nicole Williams, St. Joseph

Leah Zarrilli, Trinity Catholic

The Lineups

Danbury: P Melissa Jakubowski,  C Alanna Bellantoni, 1B Emily Bogues, 2B/OF Alex Cooke, 2B/OF Alyssa Timan, SS Julia Lener, 3B Davonna Spruill, CF Shea McNamara, LF Hanna Bogues. IF/OF Madison Gregory, OF Ashley Lubberly.

Darien: LF Cassie Lopiano, P/CF Lexi Lopiano, 1B/P Sophia Barbour, RF Kristen Picard, SS Cassidy Schiff.

Fairfield Ludlowe: Brittany Romero.

Fairfield Warde: P Gabby Natoli, Emma Houghton.

Brien McMahon: IF Mackenzie Stamp, IF Danielle Bonis, OF Stephanie Mangels, UTL Arianna D’agostina, UTL Jenna Casoli, C Ali Walsh, OF Tatianna Molina, P Rachael Dwyer, OF Kat Downey, IF Lynette Morales, IF Emily Pinto, UTL Bryanna Perez , OF Jessica Trujillo, P/OF Riley Finn.

New Canaan: SS/CF Rachel Keshin, C Molly Keshin, P Gillian Kane, 2B Molly Rochlin, OF Gabriella Sulpizi, UTL Kara Fahey, OF Eliza Haney, 1B Sophia Welch, OF Bridget O’Leary.

Norwalk: C Sam Troetti, IF Dina DiBlasio, IF/P Jessica Otto, P/IF Mackenzie Lowden, P/IF Brianny Garcia, IF/OF Gabi Catino, OF Allison Pitasi, IF/OF Jessica Giglio, OF Skylar Suda.

Ridgefield: P Kailey Westington, C Gwen Ellis, 1B Amanda Kelly, 2B Meghan Hyatt, SS Sydnie DeMarco, 3B Kendall Rogoff, LF Mallory Shofi, CF Ryen Fujitani.

St. Joseph: P Nicole Williams, C Jovanna Hillman, 1B Melissa Bike, 2B Hanna Errico, SS Kayla Giacobbe, 3B Trish Bastek, LF Lauren Blose, CF Hannah Hutchison, RF Kaitlyn Capobianco, DP Courtney Holden, DP Allie Petronchak, UT Elena Ball.

Stamford: P Sara Staley, 1B Kristin Osborn, 2B Gloria Mattioli, SS Dana Serricchio, 3B Maddie Santora, LF Ali Buzzeo, CF Lauren O’Neill, RF Maria Zecena, C Tori Cuscuna, OF Kyra Yacavone, C Amy Covino, C Alissa Lauture, OF Diana Malarian, OF Brycelin Staleri, OF Rebecca Schwartz.

Staples: P/IF Emily Lustbader, C Nicola Schanck, 1B/P Gillian Birk, 2B Taylor Rocklin, SS Gabriella Perry, 3B Lily Tofel, OF Ashley Constantino, OF Sonia Klein, OF Samantha Levin, P Catherine Connell, OF Madeline McGarry.

Trinity Catholic: P Julianna Fauci, RF Sarah Jablonsky, P/1B Heather Fraioli, P/1B Samantha Calicchio, RF Kelly Cullen, 1B/3B Emily Ellis, 2B Ava Fusaro, C Alana Gianokos, LF Jazmyne Manolias, CF Alexis Melfi, SS Leah Zarrilli.

Trumbull: Haley Komorowski, Delilah Destefano, Courtney Fairfield, Kristen Appleby, Stephanie Lipstick, Ally Szabo, Briana Giacobbe, Claire DeLuca, Erica Fluskey, Lea Thompson, Taylor Brown, Jill O’Connell, Kelly Dutertre, Kristen Dutertre, Lauren Zielinski, Marisa Valenti, Sarah Angelo.

Westhill: C Jordan Benzaken, 1B Kaira Ramon, 2B Olivia Butler, SS Gabby Laconna, 3B Edyliese Aquino, P Julian Tarzia, LF Lisa Jean Felix, CF Adriana Gambino, RF Alyssa Blank, C/LF Maddy Cortell, 2B Madison Tibenow, OF Lauren Petersen, DH/1B Sam Weinreb.

Wilton: P Sage Zunda, C Eliza Ward, IF Taylor Floyd, IF Julia Schiavone, IF Sophia Strazza, IF Maddy Christl, IF Cate McCabe, OF Hannah Belanger, OF Pippa Gosden, OF Emily Ettie, OF Brianna Catino, OF Emma Cropper.

(Teams missing did not reply to requests for information.)