Jags set winning pace on softball diamond


Dana Hruschka has found herself in a unique situation in her four years of competing on the varsity level for two girls sports at Jackson Memorial High School.

In all four years, she was the only one from her grade competing in varsity softball. She also played varsity volleyball for four years, but there were other seniors on that team.

Coming off a fine volleyball season last fall, the Jaguars’ senior third baseman is now enjoying the softball team’s 7-0 start in 2011.

The Jaguars hosted Shore Conference A South Division opponent Southern Regional of Manahawkin on April 27 and Hruschka realizes this is the most important time for her to provide leadership as the lone senior on the squad.

“I’ve gotten used to it,” Hruschka said of being the only player from her grade on the varsity softball team. “Since my freshman year, I’ve gotten used to the commitment. I knew what it entailed.”

She said she has also gotten used to her leadership role as the team faces an important week with an April 29 game at Toms River East, the four-time defending division champion the Jaguars defeated earlier this season, and a renewal of its rivalry with Jackson Liberty on April 30 at 7 p.m. at Jackson Memorial.

Two years ago the Jaguars got off to an 8-0 start but went 7-7 from there.

“This is cool. I realized there were a group of seniors before me [in previous seasons] and I think about that,” Hruschka said of the leadership aspect of competing. “It has made me want to be closer to everyone on the team.”

And that, says Hruschka and Jackson Memorial coach Chris Roma, is the difference from last year’s 11-11 season that included second-round losses in the NJSIAA state sectional tournament and the Shore Conference Tournament.

“This is the best team I have coached,” Roma said emphatically. “They get along and understand each other and put their differences aside. And there’s special talent.”

“Everyone here is a family,” said Hruschka. “There’s bonding this year. It feels great.”

With junior Stephanie Havens moving up from the junior varsity team to take over the pitching and two returning starters playing at new infield positions, the Jaguars’ defense has been rock solid to go with plenty of hitting that led to a 7-4 victory over Freehold Township in eight innings on April 21, and a comeback 6-5 victory over Toms River North in which the Jaguars erased a 3-0 deficit with six runs in the sixth inning and held on when Toms River North answered with two runs in the top of the seventh inning.

But the hallmark win, said Roma, is his first coaching victory over Toms River East, 6-2, With two out in the last inning, the Raiders loaded the bases before Jackson Memorial got the final out to hand Toms River East only its second conference loss since 2006.

“We came together in the preseason, but the Toms River East win proved to us what we can do when we are focused,” said Havens. “We can’t let it get to our heads. Softball is 70 percent attitude and 30 percent what you can do. We have to keep playing good softball.”

“The team is working well together,” said Roma. “The key is that they are motivated and working hard each day.”

While Hruschka remains at third base, junior Samantha Barrington has moved from shortstop to second base and Tiffany Variello went from first base to shortstop.

Two freshmen have been starting — KaylaMolmar at catcher and Teresa Carr in left field. Sophomore Sarah Freyre takes over at first base, and she and Variello have led the hitting.

Sophomore center-fielder Kayla Reale anchors the outfield with her reliable play, and junior Jessica Nixon is in right field.

“I’m not really surprised,” Hruschka said of the team’s 7-0 start. “I expected a decent season, but once we had practices and got outside more when the weather got better, we came together.”

Hruschka confidently talks about the team’s success and how she has done her part.

“I’m having an excellent season, especially in the field. At the plate, I produce when needed,” the Jackson Memorial senior said.

And so have the others in all phases, according to the coach.

“We have good pitching, quality defense and quality hitting,” said Roma, who acknowledged that he is a coach who builds on defense first and said, “You have to play solid defense and score runs, too. That’s my philosophy and I’ve stressed that.”

And that strategy has sunk in with the Jaguars during their solid start to the 2011 campaign.