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Sophomores and Freshmen Come Together for Stellar Softball Season


This Vikings were all about team play.

Laura Gould led the offense, with a .452 batting average and a slugging percentage of .704.

Kaley Wise, who will return next year, led the pitching staff with 16 wins.

Freshman Alisha Patel was a true utility player -- at short stop, second base, left field and right field. She also had a .434 batting average.

West Windsor, N.J. -- The softball team at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) had another great year.  While the ending was disappointing – elimination in the Region 19 tournament – what happened during the course of the season was anything but.

With a lot of new names on the roster, nine in total, Head Coach Ryan Zegarski was expecting a year of growth and a focus on the fundamentals. What he got was a group of highly motivated athletes who blended their skills in a true team effort and ended the season 33-8.

“It just shows that if you have good kids who are willing to work hard to achieve, you can have a highly competitive season,” Zegarski said.

Softball outcomes can be confounding. Reflecting on the Region 19 tournament, which Mercer entered as the #3 seed, Zegarski noted, “We lost to Del Tech Owens twice during the regular season and then beat them in the Region 19 tournament. We beat Lackawanna twice during the regular season and then lost to them in the tournament. If the ball bounces the wrong way, if you have one bad inning, that can mean the game,” he said.

Still, Zegarski, who completes his 13th season, emphasized that this squad had depth and staying power. The team even played well through some injuries, including the loss of two players, Lauren Bracco and Julia Lydon, who were sidelined for most of the season, but are expected to return next year.

While injuries are not unusual in softball, Zegarski says that finding a way to fill in the gaps is key. He and his coaching staff appear to have figured out a strategy that is working.

“We had players who could play multiple positions,” Zegarski said, noting that the ability to play multiple positions has become central to the recruiting process. “We look for kids who are athletic and versatile. We train them to fill in where they are needed. It keeps practices fresh and challenging. It’s great for the team and it helps the players become more marketable when they transfer to four-year schools.”

Zegarski points to the short stop position as one of the most athletic on the field. “A short stop is typically able to fit in well in other places,” he said, pointing to freshman Alisha Patel as a perfect example. “She played short stop, second base, left field and right field. And she’ll be back.”

Patel describes her experience with the team as nothing short of wonderful. “My experience was great from my teammates to my coaches. I can’t wait to be back next year,” she said.

Several years ago, Zegarski added a competitive fall practice season to the schedule. This year the Vikings played seven practice games in the fall, sometimes against four-year schools.

“We get a chance to see what the women can do out there and every one of these games gives them a chance to grow and prepare for the spring,” he said, adding that several players were motivated to stay after regular practices to get drilled in other positions. “That’s great dedication. That’s why we had such success.”

Team chemistry also played a big role. “The players came to understand pretty quickly that to achieve as a team, they have to work out any conflicts. It’s part of the process that matures them as player and as people,” Zegarski said.

And, Zegarski expects his players to learn from their mistakes. “It’s important to reflect on how a game was won or lost and on what we need to focus on next time. It’s important to ask the question, ‘How do I get better from this?’”

Those lessons will mean a lot for the 2017-18 squad, which expects to return ten players [including Bracco, who was red-shirted after her pre-season injury]. “I have never had that many returning players,” Zegarski said. “We should be starting in a very good place.”

Zegarski is especially proud of sophomores Tori Carpenter and Laura Gould, both of whom had more than 100 hits and played in 74 winning games over their two-year play career, the most Vikings' wins ever over a two-year span. (The Vikings went 41-9 last year.) Top hitters for the Vikings included Gould (.452), Patel (.434), Rachel Taylor (.423), Sophia Beretski (.406), and Carpenter (.387). Freshman pitcher Kaley Wise notched 16 wins with an ERA of 1.42.

Four players were selected for the First Team All Region 19 : Carpenter (infielder), Gould (catcher), Patel (utility) and Wise (pitcher); Beretski (infielder) was selected to the Second Team All-Region. All five of these players were selected to the First Team All-GSAC .

Zegarski was assisted this season by Tom DeStefano, with special assistance from Athletics Director John Simone.



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