Weekly Feature



2018-04-11 / Sports

Sacred Heart softball aiming for breakthrough season

Sharks have not won MMA title since 2012
by PATRICK J. NAGY Reporter

The Sacred Heart softball team always seems to be in the mix for the Monsignor Martin Association title, but has fallen short in recent years to claim the championship.

The Sharks have not won the title since 2012 and have been runner-up in 2013 and 2016 and a semifinalist in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Sacred Heart has won the league’s regular-season championship in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016.

Could this be the year Sacred Heart breaks through and wins the Monsignor Martin Association championship? Sharks’ coach Karen Conway hopes so.

“I look at the talent level of this team and think they all can hit,” the sixth-year coach said. “I’m just hoping that this is the year that Sacred Heart marches through the playoffs and gets on a bus on Memorial Day [for the Catholic state playoffs.]”

The Sharks are loaded with so much talent that Conway had trouble making cuts. Thirty-nine girls tried out, and she kept 14 players on varsity while another 13 made the JV team.

The Sharks, 11-8 last year, are solid at several key positions, most notably catcher with sophomore Gianna Fazzolari and on the mound and in center field with senior captain Clare Falkowski.

Fazzolari, an Honorable Mention All-Western New York Large Schools and First Team All-Catholic catcher last year, recently verbally committed to Canisius College.

Fazzolari posted video game-like stats last year, batting .623 with eight home runs, two triples, six doubles and 36 RBIs.

Her on-base percentage was .743 and her slugging percentage was 1.264. She struck out once in 70 plate appearances.

Conway said Fazzolari is one of the top three players whom she has ever coached.

“She is the real deal,” Conway said. “She is the hardest working kid I have seen. Every swing is deliberate, even when she hits off the tee at practice. She is a well-coached kid and has a really good work ethic. If you are a fan of softball, she is a player that you want to watch. We are very fortunate that she chose to play at Sacred Heart.”

Falkowski is a returning Fourth Team Class A All-State, Honorable Mention All-WNY Large Schools and First Team All-Catholic all-star who has played for four years, including three years as a starting pitcher. Last year in the leadoff spot, she batted .431 with an on-base percentage of .526 and a .639 slugging percentage to go along with nine RBIs, 10 doubles, one home run and one triple.

Falkowski will share pitching duties this year with returning sophomore Martha Balthasar. Conway said Balthasar has improved her pitching skills by working in the offseason with pitching coach Allie Block, a former standout player at Starpoint.

“Martha is throwing remarkable harder and more accurate,” Conway said. “I’m thinking Martha will be throwing more innings this year than she got last year.”

When Balthasar is not throwing, she is also capable of playing at either second or third base, or in left field.

Other returning starters are senior third baseman Emma Tierney (.400 batting average, .500 on-base percentage, 3 three home runs, two triples, three doubles), senior shortstop Lauren Aichinger, and junior first baseman Athena Zak (.438 batting average, .592 on-base percentage, 15 RBIs). Tierney is also a team captain.

Zak will also get some innings on the mound. Conway said Zak “has a heck of a glove and handles just about every ball thrown at her.”

Other returning players are juniors Gianna DiPasquale (backup catcher/possibly starting at second base), Mackenzie Blake (left field/right field/first base) and Allison Abruzzino (outfield).

Junior Cassandra Bell — the JV team’s top pitcher — is another option to use on the mound. Other juniors up from the JV are Haley Funderburk and Maeve Finney, both utility players.

Freshmen Grace Meyers (outfield) and Erin Trapper (first base) are other new additions to the roster.

Sacred Heart is scheduled to host Cardinal O’Hara in its season opener at 4:15 p.m. Monday, April 16, at its home diamond, Shoshone Park, Diamond No. 4.

The Sharks’ schedule also includes several good non-league tests, including Williamsville South as part of the “Just Show Up” Gerry Gentner Memorial Tournament on April 21 at Williamsville East, Orchard Park in the Depew Tournament on April 28 at Walden Ponds and Susquehanna Valley as part of the 38th annual James “Ace” Morabito Memorial Tournament Invitational Softball Tournament May 12-13 at the Mudville Softball Complex in Herkimer.

The Sharks also play road games against Bishop Kearney on May 1 and Aquinas on May 5, a home contest with Our Lady of Mercy on May 10, and Clarence on May 14.

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