Rebels look to build on outstanding finish

Fresh off the finest season in the program’s history, the Howell High School softball team will begin the 2012 season in an unfamiliar position.

High expectations surround this Rebels team because it returns so many players (eight) from the team that won the 2011 Central Jersey Group IV state sectional championship and advanced all the way to the Group IV state championship game.

Tricia Reingle-Savino, who coached the Rebels’ junior varsity in 2011, is now the varsity coach and the Rebels could not have found a better person for their situation.

Reingle-Savino was an all-state pitcher at St. John Vianney High School in Holmdel and she went on to play at St. Peter’s College.

In Reingle-Savino’s junior year in high school, the Lancers went 33-0 and were the No. 1 team in the state. Most of that team returned the following season and the Lancers went 26-4, which is great for most teams, but not for a squad that had gone unbeaten a year earlier.

Reingle-Savino said she and her teammates learned that just because they had won before, it is never assured that they will do it again.

Howell’s new coach said the 2012 Rebels are hungry and taking nothing for granted as they look to duplicate last year’s success.

“The girls have been putting the time in,” Reingle-Savino said. “They have been in the batting cages. They have been great in their attitude. They are ready to go.” Even with the pressure of expectations, the Rebels do have one very important thing going for them, they have experienced winning,

“They know what it takes to win,” Reingle Savino said. “Their goals are to win.”

The Rebels are led by senior pitcher Carsin Connor and senior outfielder Cassidy Brzozowski.

Connor emerged as the team’s top starter last spring, going 11-3 and pitching to a 1.61 ERA. She was sensational in the state tournament. She pitched a two-hitter in the Group IV state semifinals against Washington Township and did not allow an earned run in the state final against Hunterdon Central (a 1-0 loss).

Reingle-Savino, who knows a little something about pitching, knows the Rebels are set in the circle.

“She has it all,” Reingle-Savino said of Connor. “She has a variety of pitches with movement.”

Connor is also the key to the Rebels’ offense. Batting fourth in the lineup last season, she hit .426 with five home runs and six doubles and led the team with 18 RBIs. She seemed to be in the middle of every rally in the team’s run in the state tournament.

“She’s a double threat,” Reingle-Savino said of Connor. “She’s the kind of player you want on your team. She motivates the other girls.” Four-year starter Brzozowski patrols the outfield with unmatched range. She runs down everything that stays in the park and her rocket throws keep runners at bay. She scored 16 runs and drilled three home runs in 2011.

Seniors Stephanie Grainger and Lauren Saal, juniors Kelly Hardiman, Julia Moscato and Monica Smith, and sophomore AnneMarie Bartow are all back for Howell.

Saal, an infielder, led Howell in batting average (.436) and doubles (12).

Bartow, a shortstop, had a sensational freshman year, batting .400 and driving in 12 runs. Perhaps more important than Bartow’s batting is her glove. She is the glue of the team’s infield defense.

Newcomer to the squad are juniors Alyssa Ruiz, Nicole Rush and Deena Stefanelli, and freshman Taylor Mennie.

Filling the shoes of graduated Lauren Van Wie at catcher will be an important piece of the puzzle.

The Rebels opened the season onApril 2 with a 3-2 loss in eight innings to Middletown South High School in a Shore Conference A North Division clash.

— Tim Morris