Golden arm

— Erica Ragazzo­ne is on a mis­sion to get St. Hubert to its sixth con­sec­ut­ive Cath­ol­ic League soft­ball title game.

St. Hubert’s Erica Regazzo­ne at soft­ball prac­tice, Fri­day, May 11, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


When St. Hubert was one of a hand­ful of Phil­adelphia-area high schools put on the chop­ping block by the Arch­diocese be­cause of de­clin­ing en­roll­ment, the en­tire stu­dent body was forced to think of con­tin­gency plans.

If the school closed, where would they en­roll next? Where would their friends go? What would hap­pen to all of the St. Hubert teach­ers and ad­min­is­trat­ors? All of these were ques­tions raised by hun­dreds of pos­sible dis­placed stu­dents, but not by Erica Ragazzo­ne.

For her, see­ing her four years through as a St. Hubert stu­dent-ath­lete was the only op­tion, and that was how it would be un­til someone came and phys­ic­ally re­moved her from the school. Luck­ily for her and all of her class­mates, those de­cisions nev­er had to be made, and Ragazzo­ne could con­tin­ue to do what she does best: dom­in­ate the op­pos­i­tion on the soft­ball field.

“A lot of the girls star­ted shad­ow­ing at oth­er schools, but I wasn’t look­ing any­where else un­til I knew I had to,” said Ragazzo­ne, a ju­ni­or pitch­er for the Bam­bies. “Half of the schools girls were con­sid­er­ing, like Little Flower and Hal­la­han and Ry­an, those are our rivals, so it was tough to think about go­ing to school and play­ing soft­ball there. My older sis­ter went here, my grand­mas went here…I didn’t want to go any­where else. For me, there was nowhere else.”

The 2012 soft­ball sea­son won’t be the last one for St. Hubert, al­though Ragazzo­ne is pitch­ing like there is no to­mor­row. When the Times went to press, the Bam­bies had pos­ted a 15-4 over­all re­cord com­ple­men­ted by near-per­fect 10-1 mark with­in league play. St. Hubert has played in five straight Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship games, in­clud­ing two straight for Ragazzo­ne: a win as a fresh­man, and a loss to Lans­dale Cath­ol­ic last sea­son. Now, she’s more de­term­ined than ever to bring her school an­oth­er title, and the res­ults are evid­ent.

Ragazzo­ne is a work­horse in every sense of the word — think Roy Hal­laday, if Hal­laday could pitch in every one of the Phil­lies’ games and bat to a nearly .600 clip. She’s been next to im­possible to beat, and only Arch­bish­op Ry­an has ac­com­plished that feat, of the teams with­in city lim­its (the oth­er three Bam­bie losses were to non-league op­pon­ents). Ragazzo­ne has gone 12-3 with a 1.05 ERA on the sea­son. She’s al­lowed just 14 earned runs in 93 in­nings pitched and has racked up 112 strikeouts next to just 18 walks. In an April 21 win over State Col­lege, she fired a 10-strikeout, com­plete-game no-hit­ter to help head coach Dave Schafer win his 400th ca­reer game.

“We talk all the time with our kids about hav­ing char­ac­ter, not just the phys­ic­al makeup, but what’s in­side of you as well, and that kid is the total pack­age,” Schafer said. “She’s taught me to be more pa­tient, and that good things come to good people, and she’s good people. I wouldn’t trade her for any oth­er kid.”

Ragazzo­ne, an hon­ors stu­dent who is also a mem­ber of the St. Hubert stu­dent coun­cil, is about as ver­sat­ile as they come. In ad­di­tion to be­ing a dy­nam­ite, shut­down pitch­er, she’s also one of the Bam­bies’ most feared hit­ters, bat­ting third in the lineup. She’s bat­ting .578 on the sea­son (29 for 51) with four home runs, 27 RBI, four doubles and five triples. (Ragazzo­ne has also only struck out twice the en­tire sea­son.)

With the play­offs open­ing Thursday against Arch­bish­op Car­roll, the Bam­bies ap­pear to be as locked in as ever with Ragazzo­ne on the mound. A nat­ive of St. Jerome par­ish, Ragazzo­ne has been pitch­ing for as long as she can re­mem­ber, wheth­er it was for St. Hubert or her tour­na­ment teams (one year for the Philly Flash, sev­en for the Phil­adelphia Spir­it and cur­rently for New­town ROCK). She’s as fo­cused as they come, mainly be­cause she knows she must be in or­der to re­claim the Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship; and of course, there’s al­ways the strong pos­sib­il­ity of a St. Hubert-Ry­an post­season battle, where the Bam­bies have had Ry­an’s num­ber.

“The league is so tough, which forces us to not look past any­one and only get up to play Ry­an,” she said. “We need to just play the game and not be fo­cused on who we’re play­ing, even if it al­ways is in the back of your mind to look ahead a bit. But if we don’t fo­cus on the next one in front of us, then how will we ever get back to where we want to be?”

Her coach con­curred.

“Geo­graphy al­ways breeds rivalry, but we know if we look ahead then we’ll get burned,” Schafer said. “But we feel con­fid­ent go­ing in­to every game with Erica on the mound, be­cause you know she’ll al­ways give you an op­por­tun­ity to win the game.”

Schafer and Ragazzo­ne both said that the pro­spect of los­ing St. Hubert to clos­ure made every­body value each oth­er that much more. The girls call him “Dad,” and they want to win for each oth­er so badly. When Schafer took over the pro­gram sev­en years ago, St. Hubert had nev­er won a Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship; now, the Bam­bies look for­ward to hope­fully play­ing in it for a sixth straight sea­son.

“I don’t think any­one un­der­stands how close we are with him,” Ragazzo­ne said. “His teach­ings and his speeches make us want to play for him and win for him. When we found out we might close, we all came to­geth­er and grew even tight­er, which I thought it was im­possible, but it was a good thing that came from a po­ten­tially aw­ful situ­ation. Now, we’re fo­cused and pre­pared to take back what we be­lieve is right­fully ours.”

St. Hubert will be a tough out for any­one, but they also un­der­stand that noth­ing will be handed to them. They still re­mem­ber last year when Schafer gathered the team and made the team stare at the score­board after the Lans­dale Cath­ol­ic game to act as a “mo­tiv­at­ing force” to make it back to that stage.

“Knock on wood be­cause so far, it’s worked,” Schafer said. “I feel good about our chances, but I also know one through eight, any­one has a shot to win this league, which is why we play such a chal­len­ging non-league sched­ule. We’re the team people are point­ing to, and we want to be ready for them. We’ve been to the title game the last five years and want to make it six…it’s our driv­ing force. I don’t know what oth­er coaches do or how their pro­grams are, but we really be­lieve in the fam­ily here and we’re all in it to­geth­er.”

With Ragazzo­ne at the head of that fam­ily table, the Bam­bies will be tough­er to whack than Tony Sop­rano.

“We still feel like we’re un­der­es­tim­ated and that people don’t ex­pect us to win, and that just makes us work harder,” Ragazzo­ne said. “It’s a big hon­or for me to be in this po­s­i­tion and I’m happy to lead this team. This place means so much to all of us, and we want to win this thing for every­body in the St. Hubert com­munity. I don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen, but we’re def­in­itely on the right track.” ••


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