It would be easy to assume that the Point Beach softball team is set up for a big season.
After all, the team is coming off a successful season with a pitcher who’s starting for the fourth straight year and a core of seniors.
Point Beach softball coach Silvio DeCristofano isn’t counting the wins just yet, however.
That because the Garnet Gulls – who were 17-5 and logged victories in the Ocean County Tournament as well as the NJSIAA South Jersey Group I tournament – return just five seniors. Those five are joined by a trio of juniors, three sophomores and three freshmen.
“We’re filling some holes,” DeCristofano, the Garnet Gulls’ third-year coach, said. “We’re experienced and inexperienced at the same time.”
The key element of experience comes from pitcher Amy Piccicacco. A four-year starter, Piccicacco has steadily grown in the position, DeCristofano said.
“She’s just a great kid,” he said.
Starting as a freshman was challenging for Piccicacco, as it is for any freshman. And, as a sophomore, when DeCristofano took over as the head coach, she was still learning as a pitcher and learning to be a leader.
“Junior year, she made the team hers, and now it’s full-on her team,” he said. Part of that is she’s become a much more complete pitcher, throwing four pitches – a fastball, screwball, changeup and a rise ball.
The rise, in particular, has evolved, he said.
“She’s always thrown a good rise ball, but now it’s really deceptive,” he said.
Piccicacco throws all of her pitches with maximum effort, punctuated with a yell that DeCristofano said goes back to her early years of pitching, when a coach encouraged her to finish off her throws that way. While Beach players don’t really notice it anymore, he said, because they have gotten used to it, he admitted it can be startling when you hear it for the first time.
“It’s actually gotten quieter,” DeCristofano said.
Piccicacco’s strength as a player isn’t limited to her pitching. While she was 16-5 and struck out 181 batters last year with an earned-run average of 1.184 – just over one run per seven innings – she’s also a solid part of the offense, DeCristofano said.
“She’s got a good bat and bats fifth,” he said. “She’s just a tremendous competitor.”
The offensive backbone of the team is Grace McGuigan. The senior second baseman was among the team leaders last year, DeCristofano said, not only in average (.349) but in doubles (4), triples (3) and slugging percentage (.471). She scored 24 runs and drove in 10, he said.
“She hits for power all the time,” he said.
In addition to Piccicacco and McGuigan, the Gulls get leadership from Caitie Sherbo, a junior and three-year starter who has moved to shortstop this year after playing first base last year.
“She is an excellent defensive player and a great offensive player as well,” he said. “She is respected by the entire team and a team leader.”
Combining the experience and the younger players “is kinda fun,” DeCristofano said. “With youth you have mistakes but you have lots of energy.”
What he sees happening so far is the seniors and juniors looking after the younger players and making them feel like an integral part of the team.
The Gulls will need that cohesiveness as they begin the season with a challenge: three games in four days, against Neptune, Henry Hudson and St. Rose, and all of them on the road.
“Neptune (on Monday) is tough because it’s a Group school,” he said.
The next day they ride up to Henry Hudson in Atlantic Highlands. “There’s just no easy way to get there,” he said.
Then the Gulls travel to St. Rose, a perennial powerhouse, on Thursday. Then they have two games over spring break.
“It’s not an ideal way to start the season,” he said.
Maybe it’s not ideal, but certainly it’s the kind of test that can prepare the team by challenging them so early.
“We have to be able to leave a tough game behind and just focus on the current game,” he said.
If the Gulls are able to do that, they could find themselves exceeding last year’s accomplishments – a result that would make DeCristofano happy.
The full Point Pleasant Beach softball roster includes:
Mackenzie Donald, senior, center field; Grace McGuigan, senior, second base; Amy Piccicacco, senior, pitcher; Ashley Angelucci, senior, third base/first base; Brianne Barry, senior, first base/catcher; Caitie Sherbo, junior, shortstop/pitcher; Eva Motto, junior, catcher; Casey Jackson, junior, outfield; Shannon McConnell, sophomore, third base/shortstop; Cheyenne DeStefano, sophomore, first base/third base; Haylee Angelucci, sophomore, outfield; Alexa Russell, freshman, outfield; Sam Kelly, freshman, infield; Jasmine Wentz, freshman, outfield.