Should Gabby DeLeo ever get lonely at college later this year, she can take comfort in knowing that a few pieces of home will be just a short drive away.
Until that time, DeLeo and her St. Hubert softball teammates have work left to do.
DeLeo, a sure-handed second baseman for the reigning Catholic League champs, is bound for the University of New Haven in Connecticut once her time at St. Hubert ends in a few months. As fate would have it, two of DeLeo’s best friends and Bambie teammates — star pitcher Erica Ragazzone and catcher Jess Grzywna — will both be attending Post University in Waterbury, Conn., located about 20 miles north of New Haven.
When life as you know it exists within the boundaries of Northeast Philadelphia, having a few close friends nearby while adjusting to the next step certainly can’t hurt.
“It’s funny how things work,” DeLeo said. “We’ve been playing together for quite some time, and we’ll be on the same tournament team this summer. Going away four hours to a new school in a new state … having them so close in case I need a taste of home is awesome. Of course we’ll gain new teammates and friends, but it’s nice knowing they’ll be there.”
Together the trio — along with centerfielder Claire Alminde — have been to three straight championship games for the Bambies. Overall, head coach Dave Schafer’s program has won four of the last six league titles.
Last season, this group of Bambies broke through in a big way, winning 19 games and knocking off Conwell-Egan in the league championship before winning a first-round game in the PIAA Class AAAA state playoffs. Even though St. Hubert fell to eventual state champion Central Bucks South in the quarters, Pennsylvania was put on notice by the only team from Philadelphia to win a game in the tournament.
“This group wants to go further than any St. Hubert team ever has,” Schafer said. “These seniors are as dedicated to the game as they are to their school, and they’ve been starters since freshman year. They epitomize what a St. Hubert girl should be. They’re more focused, and you can see that they believe that our program is a very, very good one.”
In addition to its strong league schedule, Schafer has loaded the St. Hubert non-league slate with a tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C., against competition from New York and West Virginia, as well as games later this year against a pair of top New Jersey programs. It’s the coach’s hope the steep competition throughout the season will have the Bambies ready for the Catholic League and state playoffs when the time comes.
The team knows what it has in Ragazzone, its dynamite ace in the pitching circle, as well as the versatile Grzywna (playing her fourth different position in four years) behind the plate and speedy Alminde holding down the fort in center.
But perhaps the most important player the Bambies have is DeLeo, who bats in the middle of the order and performs yeoman’s work at second base. According to Schafer, she has the fewest errors of any Bambie the last three seasons despite the fact that many of Ragazzone’s pitches put in play are heading in her direction.
“She’s our Pete Rose … our Charlie Hustle. She’s everywhere and she gives everything she has,” Schafer said. “We pride ourselves on defense, and she routinely leads us in assists with all the balls hit at her. If a ball is hit her way, she’s going to get to it and knock it down. Not only that, but she’s a field general, another coach out there. The younger kids look up to her, and she accepts them. She’s our vocal leader, and the type of player we’ll miss big time.”
Bubbly and enthusiastic in conversation, DeLeo mostly shies away from talking about herself. She’d much rather talk about the school that means so much to her and the efforts to save it last year (“Little girls sent us their piggy banks to help with fundraising,” she gushed), or the friends she’s made there whom she loves dearly. When asked about her relationship with the other three senior leaders on the team, DeLeo called the quartet “inseparable.”
When she finally opens up, DeLeo characterized herself as a modest player, maybe a little too much. Lacking height and brutish power, she focuses on doing the little things right at the plate and in the field. These little things include knowing how to receive the ball out in front of her body, as well as throwing the ball accurately by starting all of her tosses up by her ear. This astute attention to detail is a major reason why she commits so few errors.
“I’m very critical of myself, and I’m very dedicated and serious,” she said. “Softball’s been a part of my life since I was 6 or 7. It’s taught me life skills on and off the field that I’ll carry to future endeavors. I love the game. It’s very important to me.”
As far as expectations go for 2013, DeLeo, Schafer and company believe this group has what it takes to win another league title, and after that, a state crown.
In addition to the senior quartet, St. Hubert brings back talent at shortstop (sophomore Jazmin Ortiz) as well as talent at the corner outfield spots (improved senior Taylor Mack and junior Brittany Smith). The lineup boasts solid contact hitters one through nine, and as long as Ragazzone stays healthy and the defense stays stout behind her, the St. Hubert faithful should have a lot to look forward to this season.
“We’re definitely determined,” she said. “The fact that the end is coming is bittersweet: we’re excited to get there, but we don’t want it to end. Either way, we want to go out with a bang. We’ve all talked about it a bit; of course we want to succeed as a team, but when it comes down to it we want to have fun and enjoy our last season ever in brown and gold.
“This right now, this is what we’ve been waiting for. But if we don’t make it as far as we hope, it’s been a journey I’ll never forget and taught me things I’ll never forget. I can speak on behalf of all of them, that this program and school will stick with us forever.” ••
Sports Editor Ed Morrone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or firstname.lastname@example.org