After watching her Weehawken High School softball team add to its winning streak, head coach Raquel Roder had two questions for her remarkably calm group of players.
“I was like ‘Girls, do you realize how good you’re doing? Do you realize how proud you should be of yourselves for coming this far considering what we started with?’” Roder recalled. “And they smile and laugh, but I don’t know if they realize and honestly, maybe it’s better off that way because they don’t have any pressure on themselves. I don’t really see our girls being nervous.
“I really think we just have a controlled and calm group of girls.
Whatever the reason, Weehawken isn’t just playing well, it has accomplishing things no other Indians team has done before
On Wednesday, fifth-seeded Weehawken will be playing in the sectional semifinals for what is believed to be the first time in school history when it goes to play top-seeded Whippany Park in the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 1 tournament.
Despite having just 10 players on the roster, Weehawken will enter with a 14-4 record, having won 11 of its previous 12 games, including a 7-0 victory over Wallington Monday.
“This season in particular, (assistant coach) Jack Montanile and I are just so pleasantly surprised and it’s been so fun that we’re literally taking it day by day,” said Roder, in her fourth year with the team. “We tell the kids every day that it’s anyone’s game, you just have to be in it. Just stay in it, do the right things, stay positive and you never know what’s going to happen.”
This group proved that anything can happen when it earned a stunning, 1-0 victory over a Lodi Immaculate team, which was ranked 13th in the state at the time on May 17. Three days later, it defeated perennial Hudson County contender North Bergen, 8-3. Then, on May 25, it defeated Group 1 title contender Becton, 2-1.
“I think that (win over Lodi Immaculate) really started our run,” Roder said. “We just got a boost of confidence that we really needed just in the sense of truly believing that if you work hard, believe in yourself, stay up and positive and do the right things, good things will happen. We’ve been on a good run since then.”
At the forefront of the run has been freshman pitcher/shortstop Savanna McHale. McHale, who has received more of the pitching responsibilities as the season has progressed, has been unhittable in recent weeks. She struck out 13 against Lodi Immaculate and 15 against Becton. In state tournament wins over Dayton and Glen Ridge, McHale has fanned 31 batters in 14 innings, yielding just an unearned run, three hits and a walk.
Overall, McHale has allowed just two runs in 57 innings with 127 strikeouts. She also leads the team in hits (30) and RBI (27).
“She is calm, collected and on top of it. She is an athlete and definitely a competitor. She’s soft spoken and quiet, but she definitely wants to win and knows what she has to do,” said Roder, who pitched Hoboken High to a sectional title in 2007. “She’s very in control as a pitcher. She sets the tone for us as a team.”
Tyler Saunders, a four-year starter in the circle, has moved to shortstop to accommodate McHale, but is an accomplished pitcher in her own right, posting 64 strikeouts in 45 innings. Saunders has been a force in the middle of the Indians’ lineup with 27 hits, 15 runs and 15 RBI.
McHale and Saunders are part of a powerful foursome Weehawken has at the plate. Junior catcher Morgan Tomlinson has 29 hits, a team-high 26 runs and 11 stolen bases. Senior center fielder Zionna Loftin has 21 hits, 16 runs and leads the team in stolen bases (13) and home runs with three.
Roder calls Saunders, Tomlinson and Loftin, the lone starters back from the 2019 team that went 13-11 “the foundation” of this group.
They’ve been bolstered by first-year varsity players Arlene Reynoso at first base, Rachel Moran at third and Carina Cruz in left field, all seniors. Senior Natalie Cancio provides speed and defense at second base. Another senior Faith Rivera starts in right field with Yasmine Hamdi also seeing time out there.
“I’m so proud of these girls,” Roder said. “We scrapped a team together that no one would have assumed would be really good and we’ve made a name for ourselves.”