By Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor
The numbers are staggering. An 82-8 record, two NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A championships, one Shore Conference Tournament title, two Shore Conference B South Division crowns and a 30-game winning streak against division foes.
Those figures have been compiled by the Donovan Catholic softball team over the past three years, and there is a common thread throughout – Lindsay Nelson, Lindsey Hay and Mya Lamicella were starters all three seasons. That trio, along with third-year varsity player Taylor Murphy, comprise the senior nucleus for a Griffins team hoping to finally obtain that elusive state championship.
Donovan Catholic lost 2-1 and 5-1 to Immaculate Heart in the 2016 and 2017 Non-Public A finals. It went 30-1 last year but the lone loss was to St. John Vianney in the South Jersey title game. A week later, the Griffins won their first SCT by beating the Lancers, but the sting of the sectional defeat remains.
“I think our seniors are determined to be playing on the last day in the biggest game of the season,” coach Debbie Schwartz, now in her sixth year at Donovan Catholic, said after winning 501 games at Toms River East. “They worked very, very hard in the off-season to set the tone for the program. They have a capability to get us back there. We’re expecting big things from them.”
And with good reason.
Nelson has been the team’s No. 1 pitcher since her arrival, going 59-7 with a 0.94 ERA and 518 strikeouts in 364.2 innings. Her career batting average is over .470 and she has more than 100 career hits. Hay has hit over .450 for her career, with more than 100 hits, 70 RBI and 10 home runs, while Lamicella has a .342 career average.
The Griffins bumped their win total from 20 to 25 in the trio’s first season. They won 27 in 2017 and 30 last year.
“They’re providing great leadership,” Schwartz said. “Individually, we see a very strong leader and a real gritty kind of player in Mya, who worked hard to get hers. Lindsey Hay is a very determined young lady who makes her presence known both in the field and at the plate. Obviously Lindsay Nelson with the ball in her hand really controls the tempo of the game. She keeps us in every game.
“Each one has a lot of talent individually, but as a group they’re very powerful, more than just on the field,” she continued. “They have a presence in the dugout around the younger kids. They know what to expect and they prepare the team for it.”
What makes the Griffins really scary is that their best player may not even come out of that threesome. Junior Karina Gaskins is the reigning Shore Conference Player of the Year after hitting .602 with 50 hits, 45 runs, 67 RBI, 10 doubles, 18 home runs and 14 walks last year.
“Karina brings so much poise and power to the plate,” Schwartz said. “I’m looking for the power she gets and the consistency she’s shown since she’s been a freshman.”
Other heavy hitters are juniors Jayda Kearney and Kayla Roncin, who both notched their 100th career hits on April 1 in Donovan Catholic’s season-opening, 17-7 win over Jackson Liberty (which stretched its division win streak to 31). While the offense exploded, the Griffins looked somewhat unsettled defensively but are fortunate to have several versatile players to provide flexibility.
Nelson, Murphy and junior Kait Mulcahey all have pitching experience, and each provides a different look with their deliveries. Junior Mikayla LaPlaca, sophomore Alexis Letizia and Hay can all catch, Hay and freshman Ashley Federico will play third, junior Kayla Roncin and freshman Alyssa Apruzzi are at short, Lamicella is at second and Gaskins is on first. A host of outfielders include Nelson, Kearney, Roncin, Apruzzi, LaPlaca and juniors Katie Wioland and Olivia Fink.
Junior Victoria Federico, who missed all last season due to injury, is the designated player and can also catch. She made a triumphant return with a grand slam on opening day.
“This team has the potential to be as good as last year, if not better,” Schwartz said.