Jeanine Maiolini is back as the Port Chester varsity softball coach after a year away following a car accident.
Joseph DeCarlo|Westmore News
Jeanine Maiolini is back as the Port Chester varsity softball coach after a year away following a car accident. Joseph DeCarlo|Westmore News

Returning veteran Lady Rams softball coach Jeanine Maiolini was anxious to hit the ground running at Monday's opening pre-season practice in the Port Chester High School gym after a year away from the game following an automobile accident. Only the former collegiate infielder at Division One national power Hofstra who is now a P.C. physical education instructor wasn't moving as fast as she would like.

Maiolini is five months pregnant, has already conducted 16 pre-season softball clinics since January, and wants to see her Lady Rams softball "baby" make it big this year with the seniors she has nurtured since their freshman year capable of making a run deep into the playoffs.

Local mom at side

At her side, just in case, during that first practice was another former collegiate softball star, ex-U.S. Naval Academy ace pitcher/outfielder DeAnne Ostrowski, a Port Chester mom, Con Ed engineer, marathon and triathlon runner and the local respected age-group mentor in baseball and basketball who capably stepped in for Maiolini last year as head coach and led the team into the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year. Four of those were under Maiolini who wanted Dee back as assistant coach this year so they could work side by side.

So the opening practice had something of a matriarchal coaching air about it, well-mentored, well-organized, no muss and fuss and lots getting done from the get-go without a moment wasted.

In what seemed like an instant, nets were dropped down from the ceiling to mid-basketball court, the nets draping top to bottom the better to catch batted and thrown balls, three batting tees were set up at the baseline at the far side of the court closest to the weight room and hitters practiced batting and bunting against soft toss pitches thrown from both sides of the court nearest to the gym entrance.

Like a 3-ring circus

In the midst of what seemed like a three-ring practice circus, coaches Maiolini and Ostrowski made sure there was no clowning around while continuously feeding pitches to a never-ending parade of batters swinging away from both sides of the court.

So the gym was filled with the ping of aluminum bats connecting with specially durable yellow practice softballs until the floor was filled with countless balls that looked like Easter eggs being watched over by mother hens.

Only Maiolini and Ostrowski weren't looking to hatch those egg lookalikes--they were looking for the kinds of hitters that could break the shells in the sense that they could knock the cover off the ball or come close to it.

And those looks were long, impartial and filled with knowing evaluations because many had been called to try out, relatively few had responded if you could call around 30 varsity candidates a select few, but of that number a high percentage were talented returnees both coaches knew they could count on come crunch time.

Sluggers don't surprise

So they weren't surprised when senior slugger Kaylan Pinnix rocketed their pitches high into the net or slugged them so hard the cage that prevented batted balls from hitting them after they pitched seemed to be dented, the wiring pushed in-and-out like a breathing metallic navel.

The same thing pretty much happened when fellow hard-hitting seniors Autumn Antonio, Christina Chumpitazi, Carli Sileo and Carsen Swallen, who figures to be the Lady Rams’ pitching ace, swung away.

Also right on target were such returning hitters as Marissa Arminio and sophomores Kyah Kramer and Brianna Zuccarelli. And perhaps the sweetest swing of all belonged to freshman phenom Brooklyn (BK) Ostrowski, the coach's daughter who made the All-Section team last year as a centerfielder and who is so good at bat and in the field that she has already won a scholarship to Fordham University. But she remains so modest and tries so hard to blend in that you would hardly notice her.

Until that is, she starts to swing and throw and field and then she is pretty much in a league of her own.

The missing links

But with Carsen, Kaylan and BK as their leaders, the players named here are pretty much the known quantities counted on to replace such talented graduated seniors as Skylynn Roman, Casey Bertolacci and Shannon Maguire, the starting third baseman, first baseman and catcher respectively.

Despite missing that starting troika, the coaches were pleased on the main with what they saw although Maiolini was somewhat disappointed that more players hadn't attended her pre-season clinics or come out for the tryouts.

But you play the hand that is dealt you and go with the players you have and both coaches like the talent they have on hand. They just wish they had more fingers.

Make up time

By the end of Wednesday, weather permitting, they will have made the cuts that will shape the varsity and junior varsity Lady Rams. That is even though Tuesday's Nor'easter of a blizzard named Stella wiped out the scheduled practice as well as Athletic Director Rob Barrett's scheduled Wellness Day that was to be filled with demos involving phys ed instructors teaching yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, badminton, volleyball, weightlifting techniques and more.

But all’s well that ends well and both coaches thought they could make up that missed Tuesday with a stepped up Wednesday leading up to crucial cuts in the roster.

As a mother and mom-to-be, they know all too well that cuts hurt and they want nothing but the best for their young charges. But the time is fast a-coming to start playing ball for real, so they also want what is best for their Lady Rams. And of what they have seen to date, they have the nucleus of a solid team, maybe even a playoff contender although you can't blame them for wishing they had a lot more depth.