Braves, with Rampino, looking for more titles

Colonials begin life without Forsyth

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

DENNIS SYMONS JR. With an improved Ashley Rampino back on the mound, Manalapan should be one of the very best teams in the Shore Conference this spring.DENNIS SYMONS JR. With an improved Ashley Rampino back on the mound, Manalapan should be one of the very best teams in the Shore Conference this spring. Freehold Borough’s Ashley Forsyth was Freehold District softball in 2006.

We followed her daily as she set first county and conference career strikeout records, and eventually, the state mark. When her career ended in the Central Jersey Group III final in June, her state record stood at 1,281.

Hitters can find solace from the fact that Forsyth has moved on to Longwood University, but her legacy at the borough won’t soon be forgotten. Thanks to her, Colonial softball won’t be the same.

Freehold Borough, however, wasn’t the only team making noise last spring. For Jeannette Bruno’s Manalapan Braves, it was another championship season. They repeated as the Shore Conference A North Division champions, and remain dangerous with pitcher Ashley Rampino returning, along with third baseman Jill Kwiatkowski.

Manalapan returns just three starters from last year’s 17-7 squad in Rampino, Kwiatkowski and catcher Nicole Gurrieri. Danielle Colagera (second base) and Danielle LaCugna (first) were part of last year’s varsity team as well and will be moving into full-time positions this year.

Rampino, who will be playing for Manhattan University next year, had another dominating season, going 10-5 with a 0.66 earned-run average and 194 strikeouts. The bad news for Braves opponents is that she has improved.

“She’s elevated her game,” said Bruno. “She is dominant on the mound. She’s come of age. It’s her mound now.”

Rampino has led the Braves to back-to-back A North titles and the Monmouth County championship in 2005.

Kwiatkowski, a four-year starter like Rampino, had a big season at the plate batting .441 with five doubles, one triple and four home runs. She had 21 RBIs and scored 23 runs. She and Rampino will be looking to hang at least one more championship banner in the gym before they end their careers, hopefully in June.

Gurrieri moves from the outfield to her natural position, catcher. She and Rampino worked very hard during the summer and are very comfortable with each other. That’s a plus for the Braves. Gurrieri, a junior, batted .295 and scored 12 runs last year.

Newcomers in 2007 are Jacquelline Eadie (shortstop), Ronnie Tutela (infield), Amanda Mastrogiovanni (outfield), Jen Freda (outfield), Katie Garguilo (outfield), Cara Hubela (infield), Jodi Berger (outfield), Deanna Daluise (outfield), Brianne Tanke (outfield), Lauren Piccarelli (utility) and Carisa Cook (pitcher).

Daluise and Cook will give Rampino an occasional rest in nondivision games.

Heading into the regular season, Bruno is confident that all of the pieces have finally fallen into place regarding starting positions, and the Braves are primed to defend their title. The are starting the season in Walt Disney World in Florida today through Monday.

Chris Hoffman knows that his Colts Neck softball team can no longer fall back on the excuse of being young.

The Cougars may not have a senior on the squad, but the lineup is filled with three-year starters, led by pitcher Nicole Wisniewski.

Last year, Wisniewski went from a pitcher who could keep the Cougars in games to one who could dominate a game. She was 15-9 with 221 strikeouts and a 1.32 ERA. She was also a valuable offensive player, contributing 19 RBIs and eight doubles.

Brianna Dunbar and Nicole Walsh are three-year starters who blossomed last year. Dunbar, a second baseman, batted .385 with 21 runs scored and 29 hits, and Walsh, a first baseman, batted .353 with 19 RBIs. She rapped out nine doubles.

Shortstop Megan Morton, a sophomore, is also back.

A transfer, Danielle Slugh, gives the team another bat. The junior third baseman is good with the glove and batted .300 for Marlboro last year.

Sarah Jane Leder is the catcher.

The outfield is led by Kate Kuzman in center, flanked by Nicole Kelly (left) and Nicole Pernice (right).

The Cougars will receive a lift later in the season when outfielder Samantha Payne returns. She suffered a broken ankle in the offseason.

Rounding out the 2007 Cougars are Amy Tripold, Kassie Jordan, Jackie Hayes, Cassi Lewski, Rebecca MacKenzie and Maya Todd.

Defensively, the Cougars are very solid, and that, combined with Wisniewski, will make them a tough team to score on. Colts Neck remains an aggressive team on the base paths, looking to build runs with its team speed.

Hoffman said the biggest difference between his Cougars of this spring and the past two years is that they are a more confident team, having experienced success. They go into games knowing they can play with anyone.

The biggest change for Colts Neck will be the move up to A North, where every game will be competitive.

Freehold Borough will face the biggest challenge this year. Jerry Acevedo’s Colonials have to overcome the idea that they were a one-player team, and that with Forsyth and her talented right arm off to college, the team will return to the pack. The Colonials, 20-7, have a big returning nucleus that is experienced in one-run, extra-inning games, and that will help. However, they go into the season without Forsyth, their security blanket for those games. They don’t have the luxury of knowing that if they didn’t make a mistake, no one was going to score on them.

Pitcher J.T. Kelly has the big shoes to fill on the mound. Acevedo was able to give her some spot starts last year and she showed that she can be counted on to keep the Colonials in games. She’ll be working with one of the best defensive catchers in the Shore in Heather Woolford, whom Forsyth credited for a lot of her success. Woolford is good at calling a game and throwing out runners (she cut down 10 of the 15 base runners who dared run on her last year). She is also a pretty good bat, hitting .345 last year.

Also returning are middle infielders Kristi Lynch (shortstop) and Julia Brown (second base). Their offense will be important this year. Lynch batted .425 in 2006 with 37 base hits, while Brown hit .395. With Woolford at backstop and Lynch and Brown, the double-play tandem, the Colonials are strong up the middle defensively. Center fielder Meghan Gibson completes the team’s middle defense prowess.

Rounding out the squad are seniors Kylie Preston (right field) and Sabrina Brennan (left field); juniors Brittany McCormick (left field), Jen Prinke (outfield/pitcher) and Zoey Zweber (outfield/catcher); and sophomores Lauren Trulli (third base/catcher), Gabby Cuzzolino (third base), Cassandra Simpson (outfield) and Rachel Waldorf (first base).

Scoring runs was Freehold Borough’s Achilles’ heel last year, and the loss of Forsyth’s .482 batting average doesn’t help here either. If the clutch hits that were missing last year fall this time, Freehold Borough will be dangerous. This is a very good defensive team and with expected solid pitching, should remain competitive.

Howell dug itself out of a huge hole to finish at .500 (10-10) last year, and Laura Savage will be looking for that momentum to carry over.

The loss of four-year starters like Christie Novatin, Kat Bruno and Christine Confessore will hurt, but the Rebels have nine players back who either started or saw considerable playing time.

Designated hitter Brianna Warchal gives the Rebels pop in the lineup. The senior had three home runs and 15 RBIs last year. Christina Lusch (first base), Kelly Mormino (shortstop), Stephanie DiBenedetto (left field), Sara Owen (outfield), Keri Hardiman (third base/pitcher), Michelle Piscitelli (third base/outfield), Beth Mueller (pitcher) and Jen East (pitcher) are the returners who make up the nucleus of this year’s team.

Amanda McClave, Ali Appell, Gabi Ciacciarelli, Brittany Romeo, Rebecca Ornstein, Danielle DeMarco, Taylor Germaine and Annie Lynch are the newcomers who should push the starters for playing time.

Howell fell one game short of the state playoffs last year and no doubt an 0-3 start out of the gate contributed to that. That won’t be lost on this year’s team, which will be motivated by that postseason near-miss.

Tom Mulchahey takes over at Marlboro, where he will be looking to the future with a very young team that has just one senior, Lisa Karmel, an outfielder/pitcher.

Jocelyn Bellemare (shortstop), Taylor Derris (catcher), Kyleen Hoover (outfield), Gayle Rotmil (outfield), Shin Lee (shortstop) and Chiara Sturgill (outfield) all played for the Mustangs last year as sophomores, and will be looking to put that experience to use this spring.

Samantha Baccala (third base), Dianna DiSanto (first base), Colleen Hayes (outfield), Sari Rodrig (outfield) have moved up from jayvee. Sophomores Danielle Dellaccio (pitcher/second base/outfield), Sam Epstein (catcher/outfield), Nicole Goldman (catcher/outfield) and Samantha Tobin (pitcher/third base) round out the squad.

Freehold Township’s first-year coach David Bleakley has a slew of returners, most of them underclassmen, who gained their baptism by fire last spring and should be much improved as a result.

One of the underclassmen who excelled is shortstop Nicole Callahan. The junior batted .438 on 21 hits, three of which were triples.

Senior pitcher Kaycie Ascolese has proved she can keep the Patriots in games. With sophomore Alyssa Ceravolo, the Pats have a solid rotation on the mound.

Other returners include Morgan Fiore (first base), Lindsie Sai (outfield), Ashley Dimichino (third base), Erin Cordiner (infield/DH), Gabby Gelchian (catcher/first base), Noelle Loizos (infield) and Christina Masitti (outfield), who are juniors this year, and senior Jenni Saunders (first base).

With improved defensive play and some support for Callahan on offense, the Patriots could be in contention for the postseason.