Alminde, St. Hubert softball are champs again

Cut­line: St. Hubert soft­ball play­ers (from left) Jess Grzy­wna, Claire Al­minde, Erica Ragazzo­ne and Gabby DeLeo cel­eb­rate the team’s Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship vic­tory. (photo provided by Mr. John Knebels)


Calm. Cool. Col­lec­ted.

That’s pre­cisely the way St. Hubert con­ducts it­self on the soft­ball dia­mond. No mat­ter the situ­ation, the Bam­bies al­ways seem com­pletely in con­trol of their emo­tions.

“Every in­ning,” said ju­ni­or center­field­er Claire Al­minde, “is cap­able of good things.”

It was that type of con­fid­ence that led the Bam­bies to a thrill­ing 2-1, ex­tra-in­ning, Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship vic­tory over Con­well-Egan on a windy af­ter­noon on May 29 at Ar­ca­dia Uni­versity.

Par­ti­cip­at­ing in its sixth con­sec­ut­ive league fi­nal, St. Hubert has now cap­tured four titles.  What made this one par­tic­u­larly im­press­ive was that dur­ing the pre­season, some scribes ap­par­ently had wondered aloud if this sea­son’s edi­tion was worthy of cham­pi­on­ship pro­gnost­ic­a­tion.

“We were sup­posed to fin­ish in fifth place,” Al­minde said, “and it really didn’t faze us at all. We were like, ‘Whatever.’”

The Bam­bies fin­ished first in the reg­u­lar sea­son and me­andered past two over­matched op­pon­ents in­to the fi­nal. Fa­cing a team they had de­feated 6-1 on May 10, a cham­pi­on­ship might have seemed im­min­ent.

Not quite that easy.

“We knew we might be in a tough game,” seni­or catch­er Jess Mish­in­ski said. “We were pre­pared to play our best. We nev­er, ever look past an op­pon­ent, re­gard­less of wheth­er or not we played them be­fore.”

If Mish­in­ski was ex­per­i­en­cing a touch of d&ea­cute;jà vu, it was the best kind an ath­lete could ex­per­i­ence.

When she was a sopho­more, Mish­in­ski de­livered a game-win­ning in­field single in the bot­tom of the sev­enth in­ning to give Hubert’s a 1-0 Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship win over Lans­dale Cath­ol­ic.

Last week against Con­well-Egan, she came to bat with two outs in the bot­tom of the eighth and the score tied 1-1. Fresh­man shortstop Jazmin Ort­iz had singled to lead off the in­ning. Ju­ni­or Taylor Mack, on base as a pinch run­ner,  ad­vanced to second on a ground ball.

After a pop out, ju­ni­or Gabby DeLeo beat out an in­field single and a sub­sequent throw­ing er­ror moved the run­ners to second and third.

Up stepped Mish­in­ski.

On a 1-1 fast­ball, the May­fair product lined a single to right cen­ter field. Mack glee­fully bounced home with the win­ning run, and re­quis­ite bed­lam en­sued.

“No one even came over to me,” Mack said with a laugh. “We all just ran over to Jess.”

Among the first to greet Mish­in­ski was Al­minde.

“I had a flash­back to my fresh­man year,” Al­minde said. “I turned to (pitch­er) Erica (Ragazzo­ne) and said, ‘Re­mem­ber our fresh­man year? This is ba­sic­ally the same situ­ation we were in then.’ I knew when the ball came off the bat, it would be in there.”

After re­tir­ing nine straight bat­ters, Ragazzo­ne, the first-team All-Cath­ol­ic se­lec­tion and North­east Times Cath­ol­ic League Soft­ball Play­er of the Year, al­lowed a run in the fourth. From that point on, she sur­rendered just two singles.

Trust­ing the ag­gress­ive de­fense that played flaw­lessly be­hind her, Ragazzo­ne walked just one and struck out sev­en. However, her team’s of­fense struggled to find clutch hits while put­ting run­ners on base in sev­en dif­fer­ent in­nings.

The Bam­bies man­aged the game’s first run in the bot­tom of the first when Al­minde led off and slapped a ball to third base for a single. She promptly stole second and ad­vanced to third on Ort­iz’s sac­ri­fice bunt. After Ragazzo­ne walked and was re­placed by Mack as a cour­tesy run­ner (Mack then stole second), ju­ni­or Jess Grzy­wna singled to left cen­ter. Al­minde scored eas­ily, but a per­fect throw to the plate nipped Mack for the fi­nal out of the frame.

“We were too tight of­fens­ively after the first in­ning,” said Bam­bies coach Dave Schafer, who pre­vi­ously at Con­well-Egan had se­cured an amaz­ing 12 titles in 17 years be­fore adding four more in sev­en sea­sons at St. Hubert. “We had to loosen up.”

One key play­er Schafer re­lies upon to cre­ate ne­ces­sary lev­ity is Al­minde.

Re­fer­ring to her as a “stand-up com­ic” for her hil­ari­ous antics be­fore, dur­ing and after pres­sure-packed con­tests, Schafer said it’s sur­pris­ing when Al­minde doesn’t reach base be­cause of her pen­chant for slap­ping the ball to the left side. Com­bined with a left-handed swing and light­ning-quick speed, Al­minde was among the Cath­ol­ic League lead­ers in in­field singles.

“I just star­ted bat­ting left and slap­ping this year,” Al­minde said. “It was really weird at first get­ting used to hit­ting from the op­pos­ite side. But I told Coach I was go­ing to get it down and get it right, and he said, ‘I know you are.’”

Al­minde got it right enough to be named a first-team All-Cath­ol­ic center­field­er. Also a point guard for the varsity bas­ket­ball team and a three-year starter (and this year a first-team All-Cath­ol­ic se­lec­tion) on the soc­cer squad, Al­minde has rarely met a chal­lenge she couldn’t handle.

That ex­tends out­side the sports arena, as well. Al­minde was voted St. Hubert seni­or class stu­dent coun­cil pres­id­ent and has nu­mer­ous plans for her up­com­ing seni­or year.

Al­minde in­sists that she is not over­whelmed and that des­pite a packed cal­en­dar, she has plenty of time to en­joy be­ing a “so­cial but­ter­fly.” 

“I make the time for everything I’m in­volved with,” Al­minde said. “I get things done. And I spend ba­sic­ally every day with my closest friends be­cause they play the same sports as I do and they are in stu­dent coun­cil, so I see them all the time.”

Al­minde and her team­mates re­cently saw a fa­mil­i­ar face when Cent­ral High School sopho­more Sarah Rosen­berg, who trans­ferred from St. Hubert after her fresh­man year, pitched against the Bam­bies in the Dis­trict 12 Class AAAA title last Wed­nes­day.

After al­low­ing an early run, Rosen­berg severely sprained her ankle and had to leave the game. The Bam­bies re­spon­ded with a 14-run second in­ning for an easy 15-0 vic­tory be­hind back-up pitch­er Grzy­wna, who only had to throw three in­nings to clinch the vic­tory.

“It was great to see her (Rosen­berg) and it was dis­ap­point­ing that she got hurt,” Al­minde said. “We all still love her.”

Spoken like a true cham­pi­on. But when it comes to St. Hubert soft­ball play­ers, that’s par for the course. ••


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