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.” ••EndFragment