The Robbinsville High softball program has established more than just a legacy of winning. Another growing tradition seems to be that of the Ravens pitcher and catcher tandem being close friends.
It started with Becca Freeman and Lauren Fischer, who grew up as best buds and were the heart and soul of two state championship teams before graduating in 2013.
They have since been replaced by Morgan Psiuk and Hannah Olshevski, who took over at their positions last year and helped carry what was supposed to be a rebuilding team to the NJSIAA Group II finals. There, they dropped an extra-inning heart-breaker.
About the only difference between the first set of battery mates and this current partnership is that catching was Freeman’s main position, while Psiuk is an outfielder by trade who went behind the plate for the Ravens because she was the best option. She had catching experience coming up through youth ball, which meant she had experience catching Olshevski since they’ve been teammates practically forever.
“As a freshman on JV, I caught and got moved up to varsity and played center,” Psiuk said. “I’m an outfielder for my travel team and that’s what I’ll be doing in college. But once Becca graduated we needed a catcher. I think it was good for Hannah just because of the chemistry we have together.”
That chemistry started when the two were in the same class in third grade. Although they did not become immediate pals, they knew each other. Once they joined the Nightmare travel softball team, a friendship blossomed.
“We’re actually joined at the hip,” Psiuk said. “We just went on a trip together, we’re going to Ohio soon. We do everything together. It’s so funny how it all worked out.”
As the relationship grew off the field, it only made things better on it. Morgan knows Hannah’s mindset and emotions, and knows how to help her out during the rare times she struggles in the circle.
“She’s just always got my back,” Olshevski said. “When I’m struggling a little, she’ll come up and say, ‘This is what I’m seeing.’ Every pitch she’s saying something supportive, she gives me confidence out there knowing she’s got my back.”
Psiuk agreed. She knows how to keep her pitcher in check.
“I know when she’s having a good game, when she’s having a bad game,” she said. “I know what to say to her to get her going. But she’s also very good with herself. She handles every situation well. It’s not really just me. With us, being friends it just helps the chemistry and how we pitch to people.”
The numbers will prove it’s a great relationship. But Olshevski not only has her catcher’s support, she has a ton of natural talent as well.
The hurler has been playing and pitching for as long as she can remember, and she threw for the Robbinsville’ 8-year-old All-Star team at age 7.
“I guess I had to work on it at first, but it did come pretty naturally to me,” she said of her pitching skills. “It was something I always loved to do, and I loved to practice, which made me get better. I know a lot of kids quit, got frustrated, but I always felt comfortable. Practicing with my dad and playing games helped me get a lot better.”
She joined the Jersey Nightmare travel team at age 9, moved on to the West Jersey Witches, and then to the Outlaws. She and Psiuk were teammates on the Robbinsville 12-year-old All-Star team that finished fifth in the nation in 2009.
“That was awesome,” Olshevski said. “Being with my team, working for the same goal, making it out to Oregon. All these new experiences were just something special.”
And it matched what the Fischer-Freeman team did two years earlier.
“That whole experience definitely helped me, especially playing varsity during Fischer’s senior year, we got to bond with those guys over the experience,” Olshevski said. “It brought us closer together as a high school team. And it helped us because you’re under that much pressure to get that far, so it helped prepare us for the stage that you’re on in high school as well.”
It was also a plus that Psiuk and Olshevski were able to play with their “heroes” for a full varsity season, which resulted in a second state championship for Robbinsville.
“The coolest part was we always looked up to Becca and Fish,” Psiuk said. “The fact we got to all play together was like being on one giant all-star team. It was fun to win it with them. They’re great people, and we all pulled together. It’s something I’ll never forget. They used to come to our all-star practices, and we’d watch them and our jaws would drop to the ground. We wanted to be just like them. We were in awe of them, and they showed us that if you work hard it will pay off.”
They certainly picked the right girls for role models, as Fischer is now a starting pitcher for Seton Hall while Freeman was hitting a team-leading .374 for Marist in mid-April.
“Ever since I was little, I was always kind of looking up to (Fischer) and learning from her,” Olshevski said. “Every goal she accomplished, you want to accomplish the same thing. It was cool to watch, and to see how she dealt with pressure and games.”
Olshevski gave a sneak preview of what was to come that season when she went 5-0 with 33 strikeouts, and hit .555 with 12 RBI. Psiuk also had a solid year, batting .325 with 20 RBI and 22 runs scored.
The story took an ironic twist from that point. Despite the fact the pair have so much respect and admiration for the Fischer-Freeman team, once they began their junior season last year they were tired of hearing their names.
The chatter throughout Mercer County—despite the continued success of the RLL All-Star teams—was that Robbinsville would fall back to the pack without their superstars.
The pressure was on Olshevski, since she was basically taking over for one of the greatest pitchers in CVC history.
So, how did she respond? By going 24-2 with an 0.77 ERA, 13 shutouts and 174 strikeouts in pitching the Ravens to the Group II championship game. Robbinsville finished 26-4, won the Rancocas Valley, Mercer County and Central Jersey Group II tournament championships.
They came up against heavily favored High Point in the state final. Matched against Ally Frei, one of the greatest pitchers in state history, Olshevski allowed two unearned runs as Robbinsville lost a 2-1, eight-inning game.
“I was really excited to get to pitch a lot and especially after the seniors left after my sophomore year,” Olshevski said. “A lot of people just thought Robbinsville would go downhill, and there would not be much left. It kind of fueled me and the rest of the girls to come out and pull off a great year. It was really exciting we still did so well and made it that far, and almost won it all.”
Psiuk also made her presence felt last year. Aside from handling her friend behind the plate, she batted .320 with 14 RBI and 24 runs scored.
“I looked at the season as a success,” Psiuk said. “Honestly, the amount of criticism our team had and all the people who doubted us, really got us fired up. We worked so hard and got to that championship game. You gotta give it to that pitcher (Frei), she was a great pitcher. Obviously we wanted to win, but just because we didn’t win doesn’t make it a bad season.”
Psiuk feels there are still doubters.
“We heard it last year, we hear it this year, but that kind of motivated us to work harder,” she said. “I have complete faith in our team that we will make it back to the state championship game if we play the way we know how.”
The Ravens won seven of their first nine games this year. Psiuk was hitting .355 during that time, and Olshevski was 6-2 while suffering one of the worst defeats of her career in a 10-1 loss at Steinert. As is the case with great players, she shrugged it off as “one of those days” and moved on.
“I’m not sure what happened, everything I threw up there they were hitting,” Olshevski said. “Obviously, I was pretty bummed because we love to play our best against Steinert. But I just put it in the past. You come back in the next game better. I did something wrong, I had to fix it. I talked to my coach (Nikki Cognigni) about what pitches to throw and how to be smart. We made the adjustments.”
Psiuk felt the game was a nice wake-up call for players who have known nothing but success on varsity.
“It definitely got us back on track,” she said. “You’re not going to win every game, you’re not going to be perfect. I think it motivated us and taught us we can’t do that stuff on the field if we want to keep going. It’s a tough loss, but all in all it probably helped us a lot.”
The two players will be heading their separate ways after this season. Psiuk has decided on Division III Alvernia in Pennsylvania, while Olshevski’s travel team catcher, Julia Peters, helped sway her to Division II C.W. Post on Long Island.
Before that, however, the duo hopes to make one more great run together as a pitcher-catcher tandem.
After all, it’s becoming the Robbinsville way.