HFA picks up where it left off Undefeated Falcons soaring once again behind Keller, Dundas

Almost a year ago to the date, the Holy Family Academy softball team was opening a lot of eyes, jumping out to a surprising 9-0 start.

The young Falcons featured seven talented sophomores, a group of second-year players who eventually led the school to the HCIAA Coviello Division title, also in surprising fashion, knocking off St. Dominic Academy in the semifinals and then North Bergen in the title game.

Now, nearly 365 days later, the Falcons are once again undefeated, proud owners of a 7-0 mark. But this time around, the results aren’t as shocking and startling. In fact, it’s almost expected. The defending county champs from Bayonne have returned almost in entirety.

“The expectations are always higher when you win,” veteran Holy Family Academy head coach Joe Troncoso. “But you can’t think about that. I would think that North Bergen had high expectations coming into the season and so did St. Dominic’s. Last year, I think everyone might have been looking down on us, because we had seven sophomores. But now, they’re proven juniors. No one looks down at us now.”

That’s because the Falcons have one of the premier pitchers in the county in junior Grace Keller, who has pitched four consecutive shutouts. Keller has surrendered just five runs in seven games, three of which have been earned. She’s been as close to perfect as possible.

“She’s done everything she can for us,” Troncoso said of Keller. “Even when she was playing soccer, then throughout the basketball season, she was taking pitching lessons to get ready for this year. I think she’s a little stronger and a little bigger. She looks stronger and better.”

Keller has also developed a little hesitation in her windup, almost like a page out of the old Satchel Paige delivery. (Note: For those who don’t know who Satchel Paige was, check him out on www.youtube.com)

“That little hesitation thing is something Grace worked on in the off-season and it does throw the hitters off a little,” Troncoso said.

Keller is also hitting well thus far, batting over .600 in the middle of the Falcons’ order.

However, there’s another reason why the Falcons have been steamrolling opponents in the early going and that’s junior first baseman Danielle Dundas, who is batting .680 with 17 RBI thus far.

“She’s the perfect complement to Grace,” Troncoso said. “Danielle is hitting everything. She started the season nine-for-nine and took off from there. She hasn’t stopped hitting. I never had anyone start a season like that.”

Another key performer is junior catcher Caitlin Veverka, who is batting better than .500 this season so far. All three juniors play three sports at HFA – soccer, basketball and softball – and it might be impossible to find three more talented and well rounded athletes in the storied history of that school.

“They’re doing a great job for us,” Troncoso said.

The three are certainly carving a legacy of athletic greatness.

Junior Laney Fiuza is the starting second baseman, with junior Gaby Pellegrino returning to her starting shortstop slot. Pellegrino, known strictly for her defensive prowess, is batting .500 (9-for-18) this season.

Senior Sarah West is the starter at third base for the Falcons.

Junior Michelle DeFillippo and senior Samantha West, Sarah’s twin sister, share the left field duties. DeFillippo can also pitch to give Keller a rest here and there. Senior Rosalia Barbieri is the centerfielder and junior Amanda Coletta, who earned Hudson Reporter All-Area last season, batting .440, returns to her right field slot. Coletta is batting .500 this season.

Sophomore Tricia Rabbitt is the Falcons’ resident jack-of-all-trades. She pitches, plays third base and the outfield.

“We’re looking at her at all different positions,” Troncoso said.

Senior Marissa Piniero is a reserve outfielder and junior Tracy Napier and sophomore Kimberly McGrath are reserve infielders.

So as the season progresses, you can be rest assured that no one is going to take the Falcons lightly this time around. They’re for real. In fact, one-third of the way into the softball season, HFA has to be considered the favorite to repeat as county champs.

“It’s always our goal,” Troncoso said. “I feel pretty good about our team being there at the end. It’s early yet. We have a lot of games left to play. But we look pretty solid right now.”

Sure looks that way, thanks to the talented trio of juniors who do everything and anything at the tiny school on Avenue A.


© 2000, Newspaper Media Group