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Softball Team Has Share of Success amid Hardship


West Windsor, N.J. -- Ending the season with a 25-16 record, the MCCC Lady Vikings softball team has plenty of reasons to be satisfied. There were many hard-fought and decisive victories in a season that will be remembered as uniquely challenging, according to Head Coach Ryan Zegarski.

"We clearly had enough talent at the start to be competitive," Zegarski said. "We had four pitchers in January. But then we had two, and then we had none." Losing his pitching staff one by one was a first for Zegarksi, who completes his seventh season as softball coach. He responded by bringing in Brianna Byrne, a solid athlete who was new to the pitcher's mound. "She helped to keep us in every game, and performed better and better as she got more experienced," he said.

Despite the difficulties with the rotation, the team never gave up. "They went into games knowing we were shorthanded, but there were no excuses. They came to practice and did what we asked. They had a solid work ethic and they blended well on the field," Zegarski maintains.

Completing the regular season 23-13, the Vikings faced Del Tech Stanton in the best-of-three play-in round April 30 and captured back-to-back wins. Sophomores Ryan Niatis and Kirsten Edinger came up big in the deciding game, with Edinger collecting two hits and Niatas driving in the game-winning run in the bottom of the 8th inning for a 2-1 victory.

The women next set their sights on repeating as Region 19 champs. But with losses to Del Tech Owens and Burlington early in the tournament, Mercer was forced to concede that the challenges were just too great this season to capture the title.

According to Zegarski, the defense showed major improvements as the season progressed, but the offense was weaker toward the end. "Late in the season, we had very few errors in the field, but we needed to be more productive at bat. You have to have both to be a championship team," he said.

Zegarski notes that the team's appearance at the NJCAA World Series twice in last four years has raised expectations. "We are getting to be known not just in the region, but nationally. We have high standards here now. We hold the girls to that standard every day."

Freshman Angela Marinos proved an anchor to the lineup. Starting off at the Myrtle Beach Snowbird Classic in March hitting over .500, she ended the season batting .444 with 40 RBIs, 56 hits, and 35 runs scored. At the end of March, the Hamilton native was ranked first in batting averages in National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Div. II.

In addition to Marinos, four other players made major contributions, including Brittany Szafran, who hit .390; Mary Rossi, close behind at .386; Niatas, hitting .373; and Edinger, hitting .305. Niatis was named to the All-Region 19 and All-Garden State Athletic Conference First Teams.

Observes Zegarski, "Our group of five sophomores was quite accomplished. They had 57 wins over two years, a Region 19 title and a World Series appearance in 2010."

While his team didn't go as far as it has in recent years, Zegarski is looking at the big picture. "Truly, it's not as much about winning as about lessons learned. We want players thinking about their education, about transferring to four-year college and, ultimately, about getting jobs."

Solidarity on the field, from left, Jamie Scanella, Jenna Comiski, Kirsten Edinger, Mary Rossi and Ryan Niatas.

Angela Marinos, left, and Ryan Niatas came up big at bat.
Brianna Byrne proved vital on the mound.
Mary Rossi at second base
Outfielder Alyssa Becker
was a team leader.

Zegarski recently saw one of the players from his first coaching season who is now a police officer in Trenton. Another is speech therapist. "It's great to see them happy in their jobs. That's the real feather in our cap - moving the girls along and ensuring that they get their education."

Coach Zegarski is optimistic about the solid nucleus of players expected to return next year . "We'll have Marinos, Rossi and Szafran - that covers second base, catcher and centerfield. It's a good place to build from. I'm recruiting now. You never know who is going to materialize."

He was assisted this season by Chris Freihaut.

MCCC Softball

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