The Montclair Kimberley softball team might have been hit with lower numbers on the roster this past spring, but they were still able to be competitive and reach the state playoffs.
While it was a defeat to rival Newark Academy in the first round (20-5) of the Non-Public North B state tournament, the Cougars were able to write down that they qualified for the state playoffs despite a drop in turnout.
Montclair Kimberley head softball coach Chelsea Sarfati said she was especially happy with how her players made up for the small roster by playing several positions on the diamond. In addition, the Cougars had contributions from junior Lucy Osterberg and freshman Maudie Lomuscio in the circle who are not year-round pitchers – a necessity in today’s high school softball.
“I’m really happy to say that we learned how to be versatile, we did whatever we needed to in order to benefit the team, and we had a lot of fun,” Sarfati said. “We didn’t have pitching, but our girls stepped up and did what they had to in order to win games. Our hitting was tremendous and really helped us when we were behind in games.”
She added that while the team finished with a 9-12 overall record, the players did not want the 2023 spring to finish.
“At the end of the season if the kids are sad, it’s over then we did something right,” the MKA head coach said. “We had a beautiful end of season celebration, and everyone was recognized for their efforts.”
For the season Sarfati pointed to two victories that show the team’s ability. The first was a thrilling 18-17 victory over West Caldwell Tech at home on April 14 and the second was a 13-6 triumph over Technology on April 21, also at home.
Those were “team wins, just about coming together and making it work to achieve the win,” the MKA coach said. “The wheels may fall off at some point, but you pick it up and figure out how to put it back together and win.”
Sarfati gave accolades to her seniors in leading the way this season – especially the top ones, Alex Berra, Natalie Yu and Amara Lerner who were named to the All-Super Essex Conference Colonial Division teams.
Berra and junior Elizabeth LoPiccolo took home the All Colonial first team honors while Lerner and Yu collected All Colonial second team nods. Another junior Osterberg was placed on the All-Colonial honorable mention list.
Berra, the top player for the Cougars, was named to the All Colonial first team with her fielding at shortstop and her team-leading 30 RBI.
“Coaches who have watched her over the years have so much respect for Alex’s game and she has been at shortstop for us since she was a first-year player,” said Sarfati, who added that Berra won the school’s captain prize against all the spring sports at the school. “Alex is unstoppable at the plate. Coaches know that when she’s coming up, they need to push their outfield to the fence. I was confident that she would make the first team.”
Joining Berra on the first team was LoPiccolo, Sarfati said was a fighter. The junior led the team in runs scored with 40 and smacked four home runs.
“She will play wherever we need her, and she just loves the sport,” the Montclair Kimberley head coach said. “Making her a captain as a junior was an obvious choice and we are looking forward to her leadership again next spring. Ellie is a dominating player on the field and in the leadoff spot she always makes something happen, and it’s really hard for her opponents to keep her off the bases.”
Lerner played several positions, including catcher, third base and first base. The senior was at the top of several offensive categories for the Cougars in the cleanup position in the lineup.
“She was always able to push the runners into scoring position or have success when runners were on second base,” Sarfati said of Lerner. “Amara is a team player. She did whatever we needed her to, catching playing third, and first. She is a talented first baseman.”
One of the surprises this season was Yu, who returned to softball after taking her junior season off and in turn gave the offense as well as the outfield a boost. Yu collected 27 RBI while hitting .455. Sarfati said when they found out she was returning, she penned her name in the lineup every day.
“We never wanted her to miss an inning,” the MKA coach added. “She has an urgency about her style of playing in the outfield and she’s quick on the bases. She got up to bat and was crushing the ball. I really admire her coming back and having as much success as she did.”
Despite the graduation losses of Berra, Yu and Lerner, Montclair Kimberley is looking forward to the 2024 spring season to take another step up the ladder in the SEC and the state playoffs.