Sunday, March 31, 2019

North Brunswick Raiders Softball Preview

    We enter into our seventh season of live play-by-play coverage of North Brunswick Raiders softball on the King James Radio Network, as the North Brunswick Lady Raiders take the field for their 45th season of varsity softball, since it's inception in 1975.

    This will be the fifth season for the Lady Raiders at Raiders Field, which is located at North Brunswick Township High School, after playing at North Brunswick Community Park from 2009 to 2014.

    While the Lady Raiders have a lifetime record of 10-25 at Raiders Field, this year's team has a chance to be the first team at Raiders Field to have a winning record at home, and the first North Brunswick team to go over the .500 mark at home since 2013.

    I would even go as far as to say that the Lady Raiders can contend for the GMC White Division championship, a title that has eluded North Brunswick since their only one in 1990.

    With the retirement of Sarah Diller, who was the head coach of the softball program for 21 seasons, the page turns to a new era. Mary Rossi was last year's varsity assistant, and is now in charge of the program as the head coach. Crystal Carlucci, a former high school pitcher at JFK in Iselin, was also an assistant with North Brunswick last season, and will move to being the #1 right hand behind Coach Rossi.

    Rossi will have many weapons in her lineup, as North Brunswick only lost one starter to graduation(center fielder Alyssa Contreras). Starting at the top of the order is sophomore second baseman Veronica Giraldo, who had a .295 batting average with eight runs batted in and nine walks in her freshman campaign. Giraldo also had a big year in the field, with only 2 errors in 70 total chances. Allison Ward is one of six seniors on the varsity roster. Ward provided some gems on defense at shortstop last season, turning a couple of double plays in the process. Allison hit .314 last season with eight walks and a team leading nine stolen bases. North Brunswick should have a good 1-2 punch at the top of the batting order.

    That brings us to the power in the lineup. Junior first baseman Mia Santiago is a third year varsity player, who hit .295 with one home run, 15 RBIs and 15 walks in 2018. Santiago's biggest hit came at South Plainfield, when North Brunswick was down to their final out in the bottom of the 11th inning(North Brunswick was the home team that day) to tie the game at two. Mia singled in Allison Ward to at least prolong the celebration of South Plainfield head coach Don Panzarella getting his state record tying 743rd career victory. Santiago did not make an error in 49 chances last season at first base, and that will be a major focal point for the Lady Raiders infield.

    Kayla Scher is the heart and soul of the Lady Raiders lineup. Kayla battled a shoulder injury all of last season, and still managed to .408 with four homers and 21 runs batted in, with 31 hits. Coming into the season, Scher needs 28 hits to become(knowingly) the third player in Lady Raiders history to reach the 100-hit plateau in her career behind Marylynn Muldowney(2013) and Rebecca Colandrea(2015). Due to the injury, Scher only played two games behind the plate last season, and the other 19 games as a designated hitter. Coach Rossi could very well place Scher in a platoon behind the dish to keep Kayla injury free.

    Speaking of the catching platoon, the other half of that potential platoon brings us to sophomore Adrianna Barnes. Last season, Barnes showed that she can hit the ball a long way, as her first varsity home run was a grand slam against Perth Amboy. Much like Scher, Adrianna also has a legitimate arm from behind the plate, and is not afraid to use it to take runners off the base paths. Barnes hit .375 in 32 at-bats for the Lady Raiders last season with a homer and eight runs driven in. Platoon or not, look for Barnes to see a lot more at-bats this season, and to serve as massive protection for Scher in the lineup.

    Aniyah Isaac is also a sophomore, and hopefully, will have a chance to utilize her two strongest attributes, which are her speed and defense. In a limited role last season, Isaac hit .275 with 11 hits nine RBIs, and five stolen bases, which marks only the beginning of her stolen base potential. Isaac is too fast to not cause havoc on the bases for opposing pitchers. The Lady Raiders hope to see that come to fruition this year. Cassadie Speed will spend her senior year primarily in the outfield, but has played the infield in the past. Speed was a very solid .384 hitter for the Lady Raiders last season with one home run, 12 RBIs, and was second on the team in hits with 28. Speed will hit somewhere in the middle of the lineup, with the real possibility of picking up 30 hits this season.

    Junior third baseman Sydnee Hopson hit .281 for North Brunswick a year ago, which means she won't be an automatic out at the bottom of the Lady Raiders' order. Look for Hopson to be a year older and wiser at the hot corner.

    Then, there is senior pitcher Tara Jennings, who will presumably get most of the innings in the circle for the Lady Raiders this season. This will be Jennings' fourth varsity season, with a lifetime earned run average of 4.37 in her previous three seasons. Tara has been working with Coach Carlucci on her pitches, and with an improved defense behind her, the expectations will be set high. Tara can also play shortstop if she is not in the circle, and hit .317 with five RBIs in 63 at-bats for North Brunswick last year. Like most teams, North Brunswick will go as far as their pitching takes them, and in this case, namely Jennings.

    Lauren Duffy is a junior, and can also take the circle for North Brunswick, and play some in the outfield. Duffy drove in four in 12 at-bats last season, so her arm will be more important to the Lady Raiders than her bat will be.

    Rounding out the roster for North Brunswick will be sophomore Mia Colon, who did pitch an inning for the Lady Raiders last season, so she is a third option in the circle, but can also play the outfield. Seniors Kayla Hofacker and Kaycey Wasserman will be sprinkled in, most likely as courtesy runners and/or defensive replacements, if needed. Jamirah Chisolm is another newcomer to the varsity squad, and freshman infielder Kaitlynn O'Neill comes in from Linwood Middle School.

    For the first time in a long time, there are high expectation around the North Brunswick softball team. Can the lineup surpass what they did on paper last season? The Lady Raiders had a .333 team batting average, its highest in this decade. Can they overtake South Plainfield for the division title? If the answers come up yes, then this could be the best North Brunswick softball season in a very long time.

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