SDA newcomer Concepcion filling in quite nicely

After spending her freshman year at Secaucus High School, Ariel Concepcion wanted to expand her horizons.
“I made the move for an academic switch,” Concepcion said. “I felt like I wasn’t being challenged enough academically.”
So Concepcion packed up her books and took her softball glove to St. Dominic Academy.
At an open house before she enrolled at SDA, Concepcion approached head softball coach Mike Nieves and introduced herself.
“She comes up to me with this bright wide smile and says, ‘Hi Coach, my name is Ariel and I’m going to try out for softball,’” Nieves said. “She gave me a warm handshake. I told her that I was looking forward to having her come to St. Dominic Academy.”
Little did Nieves know that he was being introduced to his new star pitcher.
Christina Mezey held that position for the previous three years, the last two with Mezey earning Hudson Reporter Pitcher of the Year honors. Mezey graduated and went to New Jersey City University, where she has continued her pitching brilliance.
But Mezey’s graduation left a gaping hole on the mound for the Blue Devils. Nieves had no idea where he was going to go to get a suitable replacement for Mezey.
“Of course, there was apprehension,” Nieves said. “You don’t know who’s coming in.”
Concepcion knew.
“I knew about Mezey,” Concepcion said. “I didn’t know if there was anyone behind her. I just hoped for the best.”
What about replacing a two-time All-County pitcher?
“It was scary,” Concepcion said. “I knew I didn’t want to disappoint her. I wanted to keep what she started going. I didn’t know if I could do it, but I was definitely willing to try.”
Nieves said that he saw Concepcion pitch during the summer, watching Concepcion pitch in the same Washington Park softball league that Nieves’ daughter Lyanni played in.
“I saw her and said, ‘This girl has a lot of potential,’” Nieves said. “I was most impressed with her composure. Her body language and demeanor never changed no matter what was happening. She always encouraged her teammates. Those were all positive signs for me and was nice to see.”
But there were no guarantees at St. Dominic.
“No, she had to come and prove herself,” Nieves said. “But she’s very coachable and takes instruction well.”
“I’d been a pitcher before for my club team [the New Jersey Venom], so I knew what was expected of me,” Concepcion said. “I felt some pressure, with everyone watching me.”
Before the 2016 season began, Concepcion suffered a groin pull that sidelined her for a few weeks.
“We had to shut her down for two weeks,” Nieves said. “She did whatever she could to help, like catch balls for me in batting practice. But we couldn’t allow her to run. There was a lot of season left.”
When time came for the season to begin, the sophomore was indeed the one with the ball in the circle, ready to continue the job that Mezey started.
However, disaster struck. In the season opener against Holy Angels, Concepcion was touched up for 16 runs, eight of which were earned, and 13 hits in a 16-1 loss.
“At least the last recorded out was a strikeout,” Nieves said. “That gave us hope. She still had her best in the last out. I knew that this was the kind of character we needed.”
“It was tough, but I knew it was only the first game,” Concepcion said. “I knew we could bounce back. I knew I wasn’t going to let it happen again.”
In the four games since the blowout loss, Concepcion has been almost unhittable. She pitched a one-hitter against Marist, surrendered four hits against Memorial, allowed no hits against University Charter and fired a two-hitter against Lincoln, all victories.
She had 10 strikeouts against Memorial, eight strikeouts against University Charter, seven strikeouts against Marist and an astonishing 16-strikeout performance against Lincoln.
During that time, Concepcion has also been a terror at the plate, collecting four hits, five RBI and five stolen bases.
It’s apparent that SDA has found its heir apparent to Mezey.
For her efforts, Concepcion has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week. Concepcion is the first honoree of the spring scholastic sports season.
“I’m definitely both surprised and impressed,” Concepcion said of her recent string of success. “I’m just blessed to be where I am. I never dreamed I’d be where I am. I’m definitely more confident after the first game. I see what I’m capable of and hopefully it will continue for the next three years. It’s surprising, but it’s just the beginning for me.”
Nieves said that he loves Concepcion’s demeanor.
“Every day, I ask her, ‘How are you doing, Ariel?’ and she says, ‘I’m doing great,’” Nieves said. “She’s ready to go all the time. She has that smile. I’m getting to know her and seeing that demeanor, she never harps on the negativity. She now knows that she’s the pitcher and we’re going to go through this together.
Added Nieves, “No one could have predicted this. I like what’s going on. To have someone so young and come in and accomplish so much is truly amazing. Every day, she’s working on her craft. I just know she’s going to be a special player. We have a lot of quality opponents coming up and it all depends on how she responds to those teams. But the bottom line is that we have a pitcher. She’s energized and wants the ball every day.”
Concepcion knows that she still has a long way to go.
“This isn’t the end for me,” Concepcion said. “I know that. But I’m going to work hard to keep going and keep doing well.” – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached at

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