Lawrence High School softball standout Haley Lestician is planning to attend Division II Lock Haven University on a scholarship next year; and she has her parents to thank for that for different reasons.
Her father, Pete, was her softball coach coming up through the ranks of the Hamilton Girls Softball Association; and has naturally made a big impact on her on-the-field career. But the senior is quick to note her mom, Nicole, has played a pretty major role in things too, only in a more esoteric way.
While Pete, the Hightstown High head coach who guided the Rams to a state title last year, taught the slugging third baseman how to hit and field, Nicole helped lay the groundwork for continuing her career on two different occasions.
“The year I stopped playing with the (Hamilton) Hurricanes (travel team), I might have stopped playing softball if it wasn’t for her,” Lestician said. “I didn’t want to stop playing but a lot of the people were splitting up on the Hurricane, there was talk about people leaving, stuff like that, and no one knowing where to go next.”
She thought her career had stalled.
“And my mom was like ‘No, you’re gonna continue to play,’” Lestician continued. “I still wanted to play, but she was the one who found a place for me and made it possible. She knew it was my passion, she knew I was good at it. So she got me on the Lawrence Xtreme (travel team) and kept me going through with the Central Jersey A’s, which is where I still am. She’s the reason why I’m still playing and going to college.”
Ah yes, college. It was Nicole’s belief in omens that made Lestician’s next step somewhat pre-ordained, shall we say?
After Pete took his daughter to some softball camps in central Pennsylvania her sophomore year, they decided to visit some schools in that area. Nicole was along on the Lock Haven trip with camera in hand, and her roving photographer’s eye found some telling subjects. The player on the banner was wearing Lestician’s number on her uniform, the name of the softball field is Lawrence Field, and it sits on Glen Avenue, the name of Nicole’s street growing up.
“My mom said ‘Well I guess you’re going to school here, there’s so many signs,’” Lestician said. “It became like a joke.”
The joke, however, began to get serious the longer Lestician searched.
“After every camp and every clinic I’d go to, my dad would say ‘Rank your schools,’” she said. “I’d rank them and Lock Haven would never go away. It would always be there. When I went for an overnight, to make my final decision, I said ‘You know what; this is the school I want to go to.’ It’s a really funny story. My mom claims she knew from the minute she got on the campus that Lock Haven was the one I would go to.”
Prior to the start of college, however, Lestician has some business to tend to at home—if the season resumes following a suspension due to the spread of COVID-19.
After a tremendous junior year in which she broke Nicole Ragazzo’s single-season school record by hitting eight home runs, Lestician has 11 career dingers. She needs just two more to break Ragazzo’s record of 12. Lestician is also flirting with the career doubles record, and has a chance at 100 hits.
“I’m really excited for my senior season,” Lestician said before the season was shut down. “I’ll be trying to make it the best one. I’m close to beating a few records so I’m hoping to follow through with that. But I guess I’m mostly looking forward to enjoying my last year of high school softball and also looking forward to helping the freshmen. I enjoy that. I’m planning to come back next year to see how the team is. I love the coach, I love my team.”
That works out well, since her coach aLestician has been growing in the sport ever since she started playing T-ball at age 3. Haley dabbled in soccer, basketball, softball and dance just to see what she enjoyed. Once she made the Hamilton 8U Hurricanes travel team, softball was the clear cut sport. Lestician liked the fact that the season went year-round between workouts and tournaments.
She helped the Hurricanes 12U team finished in fourth place at the Babe Ruth World Series and from there she went to the Lawrence Xtreme and was good enough to play on the 14U team as a 12-year-old.
After one year she switched to the Hamilton-based Central Jersey A’s, rejoining many of her Hurricane teammates. By the time she reached Lawrence High, Lestician was a seasoned pro and became a starting third baseman as a freshman (she can also pitch and play shortstop).
Due to her travel experience, there were no real growing pains.
“Playing with the Xtreme, I already got to know all the upperclassmen,” Lestician said. “When I was a freshmen, I clicked with those girls, we already knew each other. It wasn’t that big of a deal for me.”
Lestician hit .371 as a freshman, .490 as a sophomore and .390 last year. While her average dipped, her power erupted as she went from two homers to eight and from 14 to 18 RBI. She enters her senior season with a .420 career average, 19 doubles and 48 RBI.
Cardinals second-year coach Kaylee Jones feels her speed has as much to do with her extra-base hits as her power.
“She’s fast,” the coach said. “A lot of people underestimate her speed. She’s faster than she looks. She gets those extra bases when she gets a good piece of the ball. She’s got a great, powerful, quick swing and she has a great eye for the ball.”
Because of her ability to hit balls great distances, infields and outfields adjust by moving back. Thus, Lestician will dutifully bunt when asked to. Although, the first time it happened she “disobeyed” orders because she didn’t believe them.
“I’ll always do what the coach says, but I remember this one time I was up to bat and she gave me the bunt sign but it didn’t register in my head, because I don’t normally bunt,” Lestician recalled. “So when I got back in the dugout she said ‘Haley did you miss the sign?” I said ‘No I saw it, I thought you were kidding because I never get the bunt sign.’ They were all laughing in the dugout.”
Fortunately, Lestician got a hit in that at-bat so there was no harm done. Ever since, she will drop one when asked.
“When we need a baserunner, why not take an easy single with the bunt if they’re back 10 feet more than usual,” Jones said. “She has no problem with it. She’ll do whatever is best for the team.”
Much of her attitude comes from her dad; although he may not like how good a player he helped make her when the Cardinals play Hightstown.
“It’s a little weird,” Lestician said of their match-ups. “We kind of just don’t talk about it. Maybe after the game he’ll say ‘Yeah you did good.’ But we don’t really talk about it. You just do what you have to do.”
And the Lesticians do it quite well, whether it’s Haley ripping line drives, Pete winning state championships, or Nicole figuring out where all signs point to for her daughter’s future.