Some teams are defined by their pitching. Others run the bases well. Some just hit the cover off the ball.
And then there is the Bordentown Regional Middle School softball team, which won its first 12 games this season.
“We have pretty much the whole mix,” power-hitting 8th-grader Sofia Peterson said. “I think everyone on this team is a great hitter. We have great pitching. We’ve 10-run ruled almost every team we’ve played.”
Eighth-grade slugger Brianna Fischer added that, “We definitely have a good all-around team. We can all play outfield and infield. We have pitching, catching and hitting. Our strong suit is hitting and running the bases, and we’ve been practicing little parts of the game.”
While that all sounds well and good, what does coach Chelsea Kehr think of her team? After all, she was a star at Florence and played Division I softball at Boston University. Surely she could detect a flaw, were one present.
“I would say it’s literally just a complete team,” the third-year mentor said, making it unanimous. “Our pitchers will shut people down. We’ve had so many shutouts this season, where they don’t even come close to getting a run. And we don’t have one great pitcher, we have four. If somebody’s shoulder is hurt, it’s not like ‘Oh, this will be a close one.’ We have another stud right behind them.”
Then again, a pitcher’s only as good as the defense behind her.
“We have a pitch-to-contact pitcher (Cadence Klemic),” Kehr continued. “So, our defense has to be on when she’s pitching; and they always are. We always manage to get the out, everybody kind of stays under control.”
As for the offense, well…
“Our hitters are absolutely insane,” Kehr raved. “I would say if anything is our strength it’s our hitting. They’re all amazing hitters. I don’t even work them that much.”
That’s because her dad, Newell Kehr, handles that aspect of the team.
“He works with them, he’s at every practice, every game and just works so hard with my hitters,” she said. “The kids put in the work, but if we wasn’t there, I don’t think some of my kids who hadn’t played much before, would be playing as well as they do. He works so hard with them it’s insane.”
From insanity emerges success, as Bordentown was one win away from completing its first undefeated season under Kehr. The game was scheduled after press time.
“That would be pretty awesome,” Peterson said. “Through my three years in middle school we were never undefeated. We came close, but never undefeated.”
The lineup starts with leadoff hitter Klemic, a 7th-grade multi-sport athlete who excels at whatever she plays.
“She’s a crafty player,” Kehr said. “She’s really fast. She’ll hit a line drive, run around the bases and get a triple, next time she’s up she’ll see you’re pushed back and she’ll take the opportunity to lay down a bunt and beat it out to first. She’s one of those utility players you can put anywhere. She usually pitches and plays second or first.”
Fischer and Peterson hit second and third while alternating with each other at shortstop and catcher. Both are big home run hitters, although Kehr was unsure how many each had as her stats were not updated at press time.
“Brianna’s got one of the best arms I’ve ever seen,” Kehr said. “Sometimes I have to tell her to dial it down so everybody else can handle catching the ball She’s got a cannon for an arm. She’s just a smooth player, everything you see her do when fielding the ball is pretty. She’s graceful. She’ll get to the backhand she’ll get to the forehand, and when she’s throwing off the wrong foot she’ll get the throw over there and it will look good.
“Sofia is my infielder you can depend on in tough situations. She’s the one who’s always gonna get the hit or make that play when it comes down to moments of stress. When we’re behind in the game or we’ve got runners in scoring position, she’s the one you want up to bat. She’s our best power hitter. She hits the long ball like no one I’ve ever seen.”
Batting clean-up was 8th-grader Angelina “Lina” Marino, one of the few left-handed bats in the lineup.
“She’s got one of those smooth swings,” Kehr said. “Anywhere you pitch her—up, down, inside, outside—she doesn’t have a hole in her swing. She can hit everything and always makes contact. I think she has one strikeout all season.”
The bottom half of the lineup was switched around on occasion. It included 7th-grade twins Erin and Allison Hoppe, 8th-graders McKenna Acampora and Debbie Rodweller, 7th-grader Mya Gronostajski, and 6th-graders Lauren Scharko, Emeline Kovac, Nadia Sara, Katrina Benton and Lilly Haines.
The Hoppes are both pitchers, while Allison also plays first base and outfield and Erin plays second and outfield. While they are twins, they are not identical in appearance or pitching style.
“It’s nice they study each other pitching,” Kehr said. “Erin has a lot more movement, Allison’s got more of the speed. I love middle school for them—one of them is working on their screwball—because they kind of use this as more of an opportunity to hone pitches. They’re both great.”
Acampora is a transfer from Connecticut and has been the team’s most improved player since the start of the season.
“She takes direction, she’s a really coachable kid,” Kehr said. “We always joke with her that she has the meanest face up at bat. She’s really gotten it together, and had a really important RBI in one game.”
Scharko and Kovac are both outfielders—and outfielders only—as Kehr said, “they will both tell you they won’t set foot in the infield. Lauren is a line drive hitter and she gets great jumps on the ball. Emmeline was injured and wasn’t able to play the last couple week. She’s a right-handed batter who is working hard to make the switch to becoming a lefty slapper.” Technically, Kovac will step foot in the infield as she is the team’s fourth hurler.
The versatile Benton plays third base and outfield and “reads the ball super well out there,’ according to Kehr. “She’s also a good hitter. We usually put her at the bottom of the lineup so she can turn the lineup over and get the leadoff hitter up.”
Stillwell, a second baseman, is “one of those annoying batters” who will foul off a slew of pitches before finding one to hit, and possesses speed on the bases. “She’s scrappy,” Kehr said. “I love me a scrappy player.”
Gronostajski is a third baseman/leftfielder “who always makes the play,” Rodweller went from team manager last year to and outfielder this year and “has really made a lot of improvements,” and Haines “might also be up for our most improved players. She’s one of my hardest workers.”
Aside from talent, what made it all come together was the cohesion built over the years by the players.
“We definitely have great skill in fielding and batting,” Fischer said. “But a major part of it was us being able to work together and have a lot of communication. We’ve almost all known each other from playing together in the past.”
Having good coaches doesn’t hurt.
“I love coach Chelsea, she’s one of my favorite coaches, and I love her dad,” Peterson said. “Coach Newell is a really good help. In the beginning of the season during travel I was in a slump a little bit but he helped me and now I’m out.”
And while Kehr and her dad possess a wealth of knowledge through their experiences, the coach knows a program is only as good as the systems they come from.
“Hats off to our feeder program in Bordentown,” Kehr said. “It’s not like they’re coming into middle school and it’s the first time they’re playing with each other. They how each other plays, they know the ins and outs of their swings, and their moods and how to pick each other up. If someone’s having a bad day, they know how to turn them around.”
Fortunately for this special team, bad days were few and far between.