Before the scholastic softball season started, Cheryl Iaione was sure that Hillsborough High School would have an electric lineup.
Since the Raiders have opened 2019 with a 4-1 record, you would think that Iaione’s prediction came true, too. Except it didn’t.
Instead, the coach and her team have ridden a thriving ace, junior Courtney Wengryn, and a strong group of fielders to their fast start.
Wengryn has a 2.52 earned run average in 32.1 innings. Behind her, the Raiders made no errors in two of their four victories. In another, a 7-6 road victory over Hunterdon Central Regional High School on April 8, Hillsborough made a great defensive play to save the game.
With the Raiders leading by a run in the last of the seventh inning, Hunterdon Central had a runner on third. The batter hit a fly ball out to junior Carli Perruso in right field.
In her first varsity start, Perruso caught the fly ball and threw the runner out at home to end the game.
The play was emblematic of Hillsborough’s defensive prowess throughout the young season.
“We’ve made the routine plays and a few sparklers,” Iaione said.
Wengryn has ensured that most of the plays have been routine. The junior is not a strikeout pitcher. She has just 22 strikeouts in 32.1 innings.
Instead, Wengryn has kept the ball down, mixed up her pitches and pounded the strike zone. Since Wengryn often tricks hitters into swinging early, her right side infielders, seniors Julia Kwiatek at shortstop and Delaney Smith at third base, have been her best friends on the diamond this spring.
Both upperclassmen are cleaning up everything on the hot side of the field.
“The defense has to play behind Courtney,” Iaione said. “And those two have done a great job.”
Wengryn was also Hillsborough’s pitcher as a freshman and sophomore, and she was good, but not this good. Her ERA ended up in the 3.00s each year. The difference this season has been her composure, which has developed through a ton of reps.
“She’s not giving up big hits. She’s working out of jams,” Iaione said. “Courtney is just more mature.”
“Sometimes the moment takes you and now she’s taking the moment,” the coach added.
At times, Wengryn is even “taking the moment” by doing something she has never done before: mowing hitters down. Hillsborough’s hurler struck out eight batters in seven innings on April 15, a 7-3 road victory over Immaculata High School.
The junior keeps getting better in different ways.
“We’ve had great pitching,” Iaione said. “And we are scoring enough to win.”
Hillsborough is capable of scoring a lot more than that, and its offensive struggles are a little overblown. The Raiders are still scoring six runs per game.
But they have only gotten consistent contributions from three players, Emily Orr (.625 batting average), Smith (.429) and Sierra Skala (.400).
There are plenty of other capable hitters in Hillsborough’s lineup, and Iaione still believes in them. On two separate occasions in the Immaculata game, the Raiders had runners on first and second with no outs.
Iaione let her hitters swing away each time.
“I believe in them, sometimes more than they believe in themselves,” she said.
“If we can get more hitting we’ll be very good,” she added. “We’ll find our way.”