Softball

Softball 2017: Veteran Teams Will Make St. Joseph’s Road To 4-Peat Difficult

The experience of pitcher Sara Staley makes Stamford one of the favorites this season. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

St. Joseph last year became just the second school to win three straight league championships, a remarkable feat at a time when more teams have developed top-level pitchers and is sending off a greater number of players to stock colleges.

During the last 25 years the champion has come from a team based in Stamford, Trumbull or Darien 22 times. New Canaan four years ago is the only interloper since 2003.

The odds of that trend continuing remain strong, but there are a few teams talented enough to buck them.

The Cadets defeated Stamford in last year’s final. Both will again be major players in the title hunt.

The Favorite

Stamford. After falling to St. Joseph in last year’s league final, the Black Knights are well positioned to make a run at their first title since 2006. They have an ace on the mound, a veteran lineup featuring seven seniors and players capable of earning individual postseason honors at most positions. Sara Staley is back as one of the state’s premier pitchers. Four-year starter Lauren O’Neill is as sure with her glove as her bat, while Dana Serrichio and Maddie Santora are strengths on the left side of the infield. Catcher Tori Cuscuna and outfielder Allie Buzzeo are two more leaders. Throw in the motivation from coming up a win short last year and all the ingredients are there for a memorable spring.

Second baseman Hanna Errico is one of St. Joseph’s returning leaders. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

The Contenders

St. Joseph. It isn’t easy elevating a team over a three-time defending champion, and if the Cadets can adequately replace pitcher Nicole Williams, a four-peat is well within reach given the returning talent. They are led by first baseman Melissa Bike and catcher Jovanna Hillman. St. Joseph is strong up the middle, with Hanna Errico back at second base and Hannah Hutchison in center field. Coach Jeff Babineau said three players are in contention to take over for Williams.

Westhill. The Vikings might have the league’s best offense. Kaira Ramon is a power threat, while shortstop Gabby Laccona and catcher Jordan Benzaken are two of the premier players at their positions. Eddylise Aquino is a key on the mound, while the Vikings have several newcomers high on potential.

Trumbull. The Eagles were hit hard by graduation but have a number of strong players back as they look to take the next step after reaching the conference semifinals. Ally Szabo was overshadowed a year ago because of the pitching depth in the league. Lea Thompson, recovering from injury, is an All-State outfielder. The versatile Taylor Brown and outfielder Erica Fluskey are proven assets.

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The Sleepers

Ridgefield. In a year when the school has produced outstanding results in female sports, the Tigers may be more than just a sleeper. Few teams can match the battery of pitcher Kailey Westington and catcher Kendall Rogoff. Shortstop Sydnie DeMarco is the leader of the infield and centerfielder Ryen Fujianti plays the same role in the outfield. This could be one of Ridgefield’s best teams ever.

New Canaan. The Rams return almost their entire starting lineup, featuring twins Molly Keshin at catcher and Rachel Keshin at shortstop. Gillian Kane is back on the mound, with Molly Rochlin and Kara Fahey bolstering the attack. Is it just a coincidence this team starts the season eerily similar to the one in 2013 that won the school its only league title?

Darien. A lot will have to break right for the Blue Wave, but they are strong on the mound with Sophia Barbour and in the infield with Cassidy Schiff and Kristen Picard.

15 Players To Watch

Jordan Benzaken, Westhill

Melissa Bike, St. Joseph

Dina DiBlasio, Norwalk

Jovanna Hillman, St. Joseph

Molly Keshin, New Canaan

Rachel Keshin, New Canaan

Gabby Laccona, Westhill

Lauren O’Neill, Stamford

Kaira Ramon, Westhill

Kendall Rogoff, Ridgefield

Brittany Romero, Fairfield Ludlowe

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Sara Staley, Stamford

Ally Szabo, Trumbull

Lea Thompson, Trumbull

Kailey Westington, Ridgefield

Westhill will again count on the glove and bat of shortstop Gabby Laccona. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

The Lineups

Bridgeport Central: P Soleil Rivera, C Maliah Pabellon, 1B Tatyana Quiles, 2B Janiyah Serrano, 3B Mati Velez, SS Ashley Andino, RF Jarie Gonzalez, CF Danielle Nichols, LF Marisa Arce.

Danbury: C/3B/P Alyna Bellantoni, LF Hanna Bogues, SS/P Alex Cooke, CF Shea McNamara, 1B Emily Bogues.

Darien: P Sophia Barbour, IF Kristen Picard, IF Cassidy Schiff, OF/C Brittany Pierce, 3B Jess Carlo, IF Kalani Caruso, OF Haily King, OF Stephany Gentile, C Caroline Krueger, OF Erin Corrigan, OF/IF Rosali Pirone, OF Sydney Fagerstrom.

Fairfield Ludlowe: Brittany Romero.

Fairfield Warde: Abrianna Natoli, Katie Goodchild, P Olivia Vadas, 2B Sophie Sancho, 3B Lizzie Kane.

Brien McMahon: P Aidan Bowman, C Lynette Morales, 1B Tess Jordan, 2B Taty Molina, 3B Claire Houck, SS Emily Pinto, LF Kat Downey, CF Jessica Trujillo, RF/P Rachel Dwyer.

New Canaan: SS Rachel Keshin, C Molly Keshin, P Gillian Kane, Molly Rochlin, Kara Fahey, Sophia Welch, Gabby Sulpizi, Eliza Haney, Bridget Clearly, Allary Landack.

Norwalk: C Sam Troetti, P Brianny Garcia, 1B Jessica Otto, 2B Brenda Garcia, SS Katie Sciglimpaglia, 3B Dina DiBlasio, CF Skyler Suda.

Ridgefield: C Kendall Rogoff, P Kailey Westington, SS Sydnie DeMarco, 1B Amanda Kelly, LF Mallory Shofi, CF Ryen Fujitani.

St. Joseph: C Jovanna Hillman, 1B Melissa Bike, 2B Hanna Errico, 3B Kayla Giacobbe, SS Cami Heintz, CF Hannah Hutchison, DP Allie Petronchak.

Stamford: 1B/CF Lauren O’Neill, SS Dana Serrichio, 3B Maddie Santora, C Tori Cuscuna, P Sara Staley, LF Allie Buzzeo, CF Diana Magarian, RF/DP Kristin Osburn, RF/DP Kyra Yacavone, 2B Gloria Mattioli.

Staples: P Sophia Alfero, C Maisie Dempsai, 1B Gillian Burke, 2B Taylor Rochlin, SS Erica Fanning, 3B Lily Tofel, LF Maddie McGarry, CF Ali Green, RF Ashley Constantino.

Trinity Catholic: Emily Ellis, Ava Fusaro, Sarah Jablonsky, Kelly Cullen, P Samantha Calicchio, Charli Faugno, Charlee Horton, Theresa Lupinacci, Leigh Harrington.

Trumbull: P Ally Szabo, P/IF/OF Taylor Brown, 1B Briana Giacobbe, OF Erica Fluskey, UTL Stephanie Liptack, OF Lea Thompson, OF Emma Barrese, Delilha Destefano.

Westhill: 1B/CF Kaira Ramon, 2B Olivia Butler, SS Gabby Laccona, 3B Maddy Cortell, C Jordan Benzegen, P/3B Eddylise Aquino, LF Katia Harris, CF Tessa Manella OF Betsy Sachs, CF Lisa Jean Felix, 1B/DP Sam Waintrap.

Wilton: P Sage Zunda, C Eliza Ward, LF Pippa Gosden, SS Sophia Strazza, CF Hannah Belanger, 2B Juliana Musilli, IF Iso Casiraghi, IF Maddy Christl, IF Anne Beneventano, IF Brianna Catino, IF Claire Wilson, IF Maya Farrell.

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