Coming off a run of five straight seasons without posting a winning record and with just one senior on the roster, those outside the Hopkins softball program might not have had lofty expectations for the Hilltoppers.
However, it didn’t take long for veteran Hopkins coach Cindy Chase to realize her 37th Hilltoppers’ squad had the potential for a season to remember.
“In the preseason, you could see,” Chase said. “Eight of my nine starters play in the summer and I have never had that luxury in 37 years of coaching this team. They came in knowing how to play softball instead of teaching fundamentals and skills. They have been tremendous, a fabulous group of kids. Some of them have played together on summer teams.”
With Sara Chung tossing a no-hitter, a one-hitter and two-hitter and the Hilltoppers getting offensive contributions throughout the batting order, Hopkins is 8-2 and has secured the top seed in the Fairchester League tournament which begins on Monday when Holy Child plays at Rye and Hamden Hall plays at King.
Hopkins will host the Holy Child/Rye winner on Wednesday with the King/Hamden Hall winner meeting St. Luke’s in Wednesday’s other semifinal with the title game set for Friday.
If Hopkins wins the tournament, it would be the first 10-win season for the Hilltoppers since 2010. It just so happens that talented Hopkins team also had just one senior.
However, Chase credits the junior class for helping current senior Cece Giaimo.
“It’s the most incredible group,” Chase said. “I don’t think there’s a lack of leadership, they all pool together and lead each other.”
Chung, a sophomore, is 8-1 with a 1.40 earned run average. She is also the team’s leadoff hitter and setting the table with a .575 batting average, 24 runs scored and 12 extra-base hits including three homers.
Junior catcher Jessica D’Errico, who is the co-captain along with Giaimo, is batting .600 with seven doubles, two home runs and 20 RBIs.
Junior shortstop Gigi Speer is hitting .428 with four doubles, two triples and 19 runs. freshman Serena Ta, called a “ball magnet” in center field, has a .529 average with 15 runs scored and six doubles. Junior Donasia Gray, freshman Samantha D’Errico and eighth graders Ava Pfannenbecker and Annie Burtson are also in the starting lineup.
Just how far the Hilltoppers have come in a year’s time could be best illustrated by the fact that four of the eight wins have been registered against teams that the Hilltoppers lost to a season ago including Friday’s 13-3 victory over Hamden Hall which ended a two-year trend of the visiting team rallying for victory with an offensive explosion in the top of the seventh inning.
SCC Division titles on the line
If the last couple of weeks is any indication, the upcoming South Connecticut Conference tournament could be one rather unpredictable affair.
It started on May 8 when Guilford handed top-ranked Cheshire its only loss of the season. On Thursday there were a couple of results that significantly impacted the SCC divisional races.
Host Lauralton Hall topped North Haven 7-5. The biggest shocker might have come Thursday night.
Considering that Sacred Heart Academy gave Amity a battle when the teams met on April 30, it was conceivable that the Pacers could go to the Old Tavern Road Complex and return home with a win but Sacred Heart’s 14-0 victory was a stunner.
What all of this means is that none of the four SCC divisions have crowned a champion even though the conference tournament kicks off on May 24.
In the Hammonasset Division, Cheshire has clinched a share of the title. If Foran beats Career on Monday and Guilford tops Law on the same day, Wednesday’s Cheshire/Foran game means that Cheshire can win the title outright with a victory or there would be a three-way tie at the top since Cheshire, Foran and Guilford will all finish 6-2 in the SCC Hammonasset.
Mercy needs to beat Hamden on Monday to make Wednesday’s showdown with Amity having an impact on the SCC Housatonic Division race. Amity has already clinched a share of the title but a win over Mercy would give the crown to the Spartans outright.
In the Oronoque Division, North Haven can clinch a share of the title with a win over Lyman Hall on Monday. Lauralton Hall still has a chance but needs to avenge an earlier loss to Sheehan and have North Haven lose to either Lyman Hall or Wilbur Cross to force a tie for first.
SCC Quinnipiac leading Hand is the only SCC team not to suffer a division loss. If Hand sweeps a doubleheader against Hillhouse on Monday, there will be plenty at stake when Hand hosts East Haven on Wednesday as an East Haven victory would result in co-division champions.