Midland Park calls itself the “Dirty Dozen,” a nickname third-year Panthers coach Ali Bryan says fits her team perfectly.They don’t care they have just 12 girls in the entire softball program, they embrace it.
No freshman team, no junior varsity team, no problem — Midland Park just keeps winning, and has gotten off to a quick 10-1 start.
“That name was actually given to them by my father [Dan Bryan], our hitting coach,” said Bryan, whose team is, coincidentally ranked No. 12 in The Record softball Top 25 rankings after a 5-0 week. “He knows all their personalities. They’re just 12 tough kids who all can play. They’re a fun group. We have a lot of jokesters, a lot of scrappy players, they all hustle. It’s really the perfect nickname.”
Bryan says Midland Park’s three seniors — first baseman Victoria Bell, catcher Michelle Passero and center fielder Gabby Spatucci — have been the driving force behind the Panthers’ fast start.
“They’re great leaders, they’re so positive and they’re always picking everyone up,” said Bryan, a 2005 Midland Park graduate who set school records in strikeouts (820), shutouts (45) and perfect games (seven) before moving on to play at George Mason University.
“Being a small school, we get a lot of girls who come in and play varsity right away and gain that varsity experience. And these three are playing like that.”
Passero is the Panthers’ speedy lefty leadoff hitter, batting a team-best .476 with 17 runs scored and is always a threat to swipe a base.
Bell is batting .406 with 11 RBI and 14 runs, while Spatucci is hitting .333 with seven RBI.
“Our fielding and baserunning have been great,” Bryan said. “We’re putting pressure on teams with our baserunning. The seniors being experienced, it’s them getting on base, stealing a base and just out there making the right decisions.”
Sophomore Katie Kontos and junior Katie Lelinho have assumed pitching duties after the departure of Emily Kline, who transferred to Park Ridge. Kontos is 5-1 with 58 strikeouts in 43 innings with a 1.79 ERA, while Lelinho is 5-0 with 32 strikeouts in 30 innings and has not allowed an earned run this season.
“They’re two very different pitchers, and both really mentally tough,” Bryan said. “And with pitching, it’s so important to hit your spots, and that’s something I stress a lot and they’ve been great with that.”