Old Forge seniors from left to right, kneeling, Jess Casey, Nicole Marianelil and Lindsay Regan; standing, Sarah Fish, Andi Alsalahat and Dana Bilski.photo by rick notari
For the first time taking over the reigns of the Old Forge softball program some 12 years ago, veteran skipper Pat Revello is at a crossroads.
The Blue Devils enter the 2011 season without an ace on the mound, and an anchor at shortstop and atop the lineup. But with seven experienced players returning, Old Forge “can’t wait” to get back on the diamond to defend its three consecutive Lackawanna League Division II and District 2 Class 1A crowns.
“We lost three great players to graduation,” said Revello, “but we have six seniors back that have won three District 2 titles and three Lackawanna League championships. We have also been to the state playoffs three straight years, and those seniors have been a big part of us getting there and achieving those goals.
“Our division is tough and makes us a better team every year. If our pitching comes through, we look to be in the mix at the top of the division. We can’t wait to get started.”
There will be no position tougher to replace than in the circle, and Old Forge has four players working to get the nod on opening day.
Senior Nicole Marianelli, junior Kim Regan, sophomore Samantha Talarico and freshman Taylor Nemetz are all in the mix according to Revello with none of the quartet separating themselves from the others to this point.
Marianelli – a two-year starter in the outfield – has the most experience of the four, having pitched 11 varsity innings over two years during exhibition play. She has also struck out 13 during her time on the mound. Marianelli batted .319 while playing centerfield as a junior and drove in 13 runs.
“If our pitchers throw strikes and we don’t give any extra outs defensively, we will be O.K.,” said Revello. “We are not asking out pitchers to be our pitchers of the past. They will have a good defensive behind so then need to just go out and throw strikes. Having four of them has given us an added dimension of competition for that spot in practice.”
And despite returning eight players who started at least one game last year, that competition has aided in filling other holes that have come from graduation.
Those spots include almost every infield spot and possibly an outfield spot depending on whether Marianelli wins the pitching job.
One spot that is not up for grabs is at first base. Senior Dana Bilski returns for her second year in the field, and third in the batting order for the Blue Devils. Bilski hit .333 as a junior with 13 RBI and a team-leading five doubles.
At second base, junior Briah Carling is battling with freshman Marisa Zambetti for the job, and at shortstop, Lindsay Regan will try and make the transition from third base. Regan is a two-year starter at third base, having taken over for Andi Alsalahat after the latter moved behind the plate for her sophomore season. Regan hit .297 with 11 RBI last season while playing the hot corner with a torn labrum in her right shoulder. The senior had surgery in the off-season to repair the injury and could remain at third base should either sophomore Vicki Lee or freshman Rhyan Barnic beat her out for the job.
Should Regan move to short, Alsalahat could return to the position she earned all-league honors at as a freshman. The senior returned to the lineup halfway through her junior season after rehabbing a torn ACL but played right field upon her return to help her protect the injury. Alsalahat hit .347 with 13 RBI in 15 games last season. Junior Kelly Marhelski is also a possibility at third base after playing mostly in right field last season.
Before her knee injury, Alsalahat was an all-star catcher, so she could also turn up back behind the plate depending on how the infield shakes out. Sophomore Chelsea Cadwalder had a solid year behind the plate as a freshman, driving in 10 runs in her first season.
“We have multiple players who have played multiple positions for us and that’s a bonus,” said Revello. “It’s a good problem to have because we have a lot of positions open, and the competition it has created has been a positive. We have a lot of kids fighting for spots in the lineup.”
The outfield is less up in the air for the Blue Devils as senior Jess Casey and freshman Lauren Carey have earned two of the three spots. Casey batted .400 down the stretch for Old Forge and had the game-winning hit in the district title game against Blue Ridge. She will also serve as the Blue Devils emergency catcher.
The third outfield spot will go to Marianelli if she is not the starting pitcher. Should she gain the starting nod in the circle, then Marhelski, Lee, junior Morgan Malia and sophomore Nicole Giacometti will vie for the final spot. Malia and senior Sarah Fish give Old Forge the option of using the designated player rule as the Blue Devils top bats off the bench.
“There are going to be large numbers put on the board this year with the change in the pitching mound,” said Revello of the PIAA’s change to the pitching rubber being 43 feet from the plate instead of 40. “It’s going to be a totally different game for a few seasons. It the past we concentrated on defense because of our good pitching and the other good pitchers in the league. But its going to be a hitter’s game this year, and we are looking forward to hitting.”