Tornados pick up where they left off last summer

By doug mckenzie
Staff Writer

By doug mckenzie
Staff Writer

The Central Jersey Tornado 14-and-under girls softball team faced some stellar competition this summer, and did little to hurt its reputation as one of the nation’s premier youth softball teams.

The local girls recently placed second in the National Pony Softball Tournament in Sterling, Va., after claiming a ninth-place finish in the National Fastpitch Association Softball tournament in Orlando, Fla., last month.

In that Florida tournament, the Tornadoes finished with an 8-3-1 record, losing to Naples, Fla., in their final game. It was yet another impressive finish for a team that has grown accustomed to finding success on the national stage.

As a 10-and-under team, the Tornados won the title at the National Pony tournament, before taking 13th last year.

This summer, they excelled once again, placing second out of 144 teams from throughout the nation. In doing so, the Tornados made several valiant comebacks while playing six games in 24 hours to reach the championship game. There, they fell to the Vienna All-Stars from Virginia. Overall, they finished at 11-1 for the tournament.

The Tornados finished at 56-12-1 for the summer, and won N.J. Pony and ASA state championships along the way.

This year’s squad featured players from throughout the central New Jersey area. A pair of Old Bridge girls, Nicki Riggio and Kate Calogera, were key contributors throughout the summer. Riggio had a game-winning, 225-foot home run against the Jacksonville, Fla., Thunder, and batted a team-high .432 during the two national tournaments, with 18 hits.

Calogera made several outstanding defensive plays at shortstop, including diving catches on three different occasions, while also hitting at a .373 clip (21-for-59).

Matawan’s Danielle Davenport and Kelly McGinnis were also key contributors, with Davenport playing a flawless center field, making several nice catches and throwing out base runners in the nationals, while McGinnis compiled a 3-0 pitching record throughout the two national tournaments. McGinnis also provided one of the highlights of the Pony tournament when she scored the tying run against the Pennsylvania Chaos, escaping from a rundown between third base and home plate.

Another Matawan native, Tina Soltren, also had a stellar summer for the Tornados. She collected a key two-out single that ignited a rally against the Chaos in the quarterfinal game of the Pony Nationals.

Manalapan’s Ashley Rampino had sev­eral key hits during both tournaments, hit­ting at a .383 clip, and pitched a 2-0 shutout in the Pony Nationals against a tough Sarasota, Fla., team.

Jackson’s Stephanie Byster was also a hitting star, batting .388 and collecting a team-high 21 hits (including six doubles) over the two tournaments, while knocking in 13 runs.

Hamilton’s Nick Caplinger and Toms River’s Lisa Federico were also key com­ponents to this talented team, with Fed­erico contributing the game-winning hit against Sarasota in the Pony Nationals, and Caplinger using her speed to help the team succeed, stealing nine bases and chipping in with six sacrifice bunts.

North Brunswick was also well-repre­sented, with both Leigh Elko and Capri Catalano playing major roles in the team’s success. During the tournaments, Elko was 18-for-53 for a .339 batting average, driv­ing in 12 runs, and recording eight doubles, two triples and a home run. Defensively, she threw out numerous base runners from her catching position to help keep opposing players out of scoring position.

A catcher on the North Brunswick High School team, she was named First Team All-Conference as a freshman, and is mak­ing a name for herself as one of the top up-and-coming catchers in the state.

In the Pony Nationals, Catalano showed a knack for coming through in the clutch, when she hit a double in the bottom of the seventh inning with two out against Sara­sota to drive in the winning run, helping the Tornados advance to the final 16. In the quarterfinal game against the Chaos, she came through again, singling with two outs in the seventh to tie the game. She finished at a .353 mark, after going 12-for-34 for the two tournaments.

Capri was also impressive on the mound, finishing with an 11-1 mark over the course of the two tournaments, includ­ing seven shutouts and two no-hitters.