Patriots off to good start
NCS softball credits teamwork for success
Like all of the local spring sports programs, Newark Charter’s softball team battled the lion roar of March at the onset of the 2018 season. However, based on the team’s early season record, the Patriots appear to have won the battle over Mother Nature.
“Newark Charter has a great gym. With an indoor batting cage, we have been able to utilize through the first month or so of practice when needed, which has been a lot this season,” third-year head coach Jessica Calderone said. “We’ve had to get creative with some of the drills we do. When the team comes to practice every day with such an optimistic attitude and the desire to improve, it’s easy. We could honestly practice anywhere.”
The consistent practice routine enabled Newark Charter to jump out to a 4-0 start before recording its first loss this week. The Patriots defeated Middletown (5-2), Red Lion Christian Academy (14-3), Hodgson Vo-Tech (111) and William Penn Charter (Pa.) (15-1).
“The coaching staff has stressed since the first day of practice that the team comes before the individual player, and the team has exemplified that in our first four games,” Calderone explained. “We are playing very unselfish softball right now. Girls are getting the sacrifice bunts down, they are having key hits to the outfield with runners in scoring position and they are picking each other up.”
Senior Caitlin Pontak has stepped up at the plate and in the circle. She picked up the victory in all four wins, giving up just seven runs while boasting a 2.23 ERA.
“The key to my pitching success is all thanks to my team,” Pontak explained. “In the circle, all I can control is where I throw my pitches. After that, if the batter hits the ball, my team is there to back me up and help get outs. It also helps that coach Jess is giving me great pitch calls and has confidence in me and my pitches and still remains confident in me after I miss a spot.”
Pontak is just as successful on the other side of a pitch, boasting a .500 average at the plate.
“I have great coaches that are confident in my swing,” Pontak said. “I go up to the plate with a mindset that I have to get my job done, whether that be to get on base, hit a hard ball to get runners in, or to lay down a bunt to move runners along. Coach Jess tells us all the time to not be selfish when we are up at the plate. Meaning, do what is best for the team even if it means that you might be the one that gets out.”
Bella Hagen is another player who doesn’t get out often. The junior centerfielder has a .600 average with eight RBIs and eight runs scored in the first four games.
“I believe that confidence and believing in yourself and your team is key,” Hagen said. “When you know that your team has your back and will pick you up if you’re down, then the game is a lot less stressful.”
Calderone first developed her team-first philosophy as a player at St. Mark’s and Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh. She then went on to coach in the Orange Crush softball organization and as an assistant under Greg Shivery when Newark Charter fielded a junior varsity team for the first time in 2014.
“We focus on what we can do each day –whether in practice or a game – to better our teammates and to better ourselves,” Calderone said. “We focus on the things we can control, like effort, energy and attitude, and the job that each player has. If we can continue to work hard, continue to improve each day throughout the season and continue to get our jobs done, there is no doubt in my mind that we will accomplish our goal and hopefully a little more.”
That goal is to return to the state tournament for the second straight year. Last season, Newark Charter made the postseason for the first time in just the second year that the relatively new program was eligible. A 3-0 loss to Sussex Tech in the opening round provided the Patriots with all the motivation they need to return to the state tournament.
“Our overall team goal is to make the state tournament this year and not be sent home in the first round,” Calderone said.
Newark Charter suffered its first loss of the season on Monday to Delmar.
“Hopefully we can learn from that loss,” Calderone said of the 6-0 setback at Folk Park. “Sometimes a loss can benefit a team more than a win. [I’m] hoping that will be the case.”
If the Patriots learn from that loss and go on to succeed, it will be as a team – a team that enjoys playing together on the field, and hanging out together off it.
“This team has great chemistry on and off the field,” Calderone said. “They have strong friendships with one another and they genuinely care about each other. They have a lot of fun playing together and that has shown in our play.”
Newark Charter’s complete schedule is at www.ncspatri otssports.com/page33336.
Newark Charter’s softball team has a 4-1 record to begin the season.