BELLEVILLE, NJ – The Belleville High School softball team enjoyed a magnificent season.
The Lady Bucs, under head coach Chris Cantarella, won the Super Essex Conference-Colonial Division championship with an undefeated 12-0 divisional mark. Belleville finished with a fantastic 21-3 overall record.
In the Essex County Tournament, the 13th-seeded Bucs defeated No. 20 seed West Caldwell Tech, 10-0, May 1 in the preliminary round before losing to fourth-seeded Caldwell, 4-1, May 4 in the first round.
Belleville was the No. 2 seed in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 state tournament, defeating No. 15 seed Millburn, 13-6, May 16, before losing to No. 7 seed Cranford, 10-3, May 20, in the quarterfinals. The next day, they defeated Newark East Side, 13-3, to end the season on a winning note.
Starting in the pitching circle were junior lefty Charlotte Colon and junior righty Shannon Walsh. “Both have developed into solid pitchers,” Cantarella said. “The key to their success was they threw strikes and let the defense behind and in front of them make plays.”
Colon finished the season with a 13-2 record with 96 strikeouts and only allowed 61 hits. She threw a one 1-hitter and two no-hitters this season.
Walsh also pitched very well and finished with an 8-1 record with one save. She struck out 55 hitters and finished with a 1.71 ERA. Shannon threw two 2-hitters and one 1-hitter.
Cherylann Nicosia was the team’s catcher and improved upon her excellent junior season by hitting .587 (.605 in the league) with 44 hits, 35 RBI and 40 runs. “She was heavily relied on both on the field and off as a leader and as someone who had to be at her best every day,” said Cantarella.
Nicosia hit in 21 out of 24 games and opened and closed her senior campaign with 4-RBI days. “She will be difficult to replace next year after being a four-year starter,” said Cantarella, noting Nicosia will attend Springfield College (Mass.) next year to continue her softball career.
Junior AnneMarie Smith and senior Janelle Ramirez were the team’s first basemen. Smith had a great season, hitting over .450 and providing some protection to Nicosia. Smith drove in 18 runs and had 32 RBI, including going 4-for-4 in an extra-inning game against Millburn. She also was solid defensively.
Ramirez batted .290 with five RBI and went 2-for-3 in a victory over Orange. “She was a great team leader,” lauded Cantarella. “She was a vocal leader and helped keep all the girls up during the games.”
Senior Krystal Medina had an outstanding spring, after dealing with an early-season injury. She hit just under .400 and was third on the team in RBIs with 28. In conference play is where she excelled, as she hit at a .600 clip and drove in 20 runs.
Senior Ariana Ruiz filled in for Medina at second base early in the year and the team didn’t miss a beat. “Her glove saved runs and she made every play defensively,” Cantarella said. “She showed great senior leadership and the younger players looked up to her as a role model.”
Junior Janelle McCann had a special season in her first full year on the varsity. She moved into the leadoff spot in the line-up after an early-season injury to Jehann Dabon. She batted .371 but had an on-base percentage of .495. Getting on base was key for her as she was second on the team in runs scored with 32.
Junior Nathalie Marin had another strong campaign at third base. Marin hit .438 and was in the top 3 in three other offensive categories.
Junior Ruqaya Embaby and senior Angie Rivera added depth to third base and to the lineup as the first hitters off the bench. Embaby batted .476 with 14 RBI, while Rivera hit .355 and had 13 RBI.
Junior Fiorella Samaniego played a solid left field this year. “Fiorella is quick and has a strong arm,” Cantarella said. “She helped turn the lineup and had three multi-hit games this season.”
Senior Jehann Dabon unfortunately saw limited time due to a high ankle sprain injury, but when in the lineup, was a strong defensive center fielder and an outstanding leader, said Cantarella.
Junior Asmaa Embaby was a more than capable replacement and improved as the season went on and will be looked on to be a key contributor next year, Cantarella said.
Right field duties were handled by Jennifer Garrido. She lead the team in outfield assists with six. Offensively, she finished with 22 RBI.
Junior Jaylyanna Bratcher had a breakout season as a part-time outfielder and full-time Designated Player. She batted .429 and was tied with Nicosia for the team lead in RBI with 35.
Senior Myranda Laabes was injured during the team’s preseason Florida trip and missed most of the season. However, despite the injury, she was at every game and very supportive and got cleared to participate in some games towards the end of the season, Cantarella said.
Senior Elly Barbosa was a valuable leader and pinch-hitter who had big hits in the Leonia and Harrison games.
Cantarella, indeed, was extremely proud of his team’s tremendous season.
“We had some great early-season scrimmages against some really good teams (West Milford, Paramus and Columbia) which helped prepare us and were extremely valuable,” Cantarella said. “I believe the high expectations we had for this season were met (league champions, 20-plus wins and a home state game) although as the season progressed expectations increased and we feel a bit short in that regard (semifinals in the state section and a second county win). We return starters from almost every position next year and our Junior Varsity and Freshman teams had great years, so the expectations will be high again. Our Junior Varsity went 19-2 and our freshman were 8-0.
“The season that we had wouldn’t have been possible without the excellent coaches and team managers that we had – Varsity assistants Alexa Veniero, Junior Varsity Danielle Santosusso, and Freshman Amanda Velotti, Varsity Managers Christina Gibson, Jaylynn Pinto and Jessica Osorio.”