Blue Devils ready to defend title in 2022
HAMMONTON—Few expected Hammonton High School’s softball team to win the South Jersey Group 3 championship last year, but the Blue Devils surprised many, including themselves, by bringing home the title and finishing the season with a 20-2 record.
With almost the entire roster returning this season, Hammonton won’t sneak up on anyone as they look to repeat as sectional champs.
“Last year was beyond our wildest dreams. Heading into last year we believed we had some talented athletes. Not having a season in 2020 we weren’t sure how talented. We knew in the circle and behind the plate we had experience, but after that it was a blank slate. If you would have told us last March we’d be 20-2 and in a tight game late with a team as talented as Colts Neck [in the state finals] I’d have laughed. Again, not that we didn’t think we had talent, but that talent was young [mostly 10th graders] and untested having lost their frosh season,” Hammonton coach Eric Shulman said.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Blue Devils this season will be keeping last year’s championship in perspective as they try to win again.
“Last season—If you look at sports on any level: professional, collegiate or high school it’s rare that a team repeats, even when they have such a large nucleus back. We have to make sure that we understand last year was last year. We are going to get every team’s ‘A’ game and we can’t just get off the bus and believe we’re going to win because we did last year,” Shulman said.
Shulman understands the challenges, but is also confident that Hammonton can bring home another title this season. The Blue Devils are a deep team with several veteran starters.
“Our experience [is a strength]. We have eight starters back and a total of 12 letter winners. Having the season we had last year they’ve played in not just some big [playoff] games, but games of all different situation. Having so much experience in a variety of situations they know what it takes to succeed,” Shulman said.
Hammonton’s lineup features some of the best hitters in South Jersey. Senior second baseman Krista Tzaferos is a two-year starter who batted better than .500 last year and led the team with six home runs and 27 RBIs.
Outfielder Ava Divello batted .350 last year and led the team with five triples. She brings range and a strong arm to the outfield mix.
Sophomore shortstop Victoria Esau is a two-year starter who played well defensively last year and ended the season with a hot bat.
Junior Riley Lancaster started last year and returns in the outfield following a season where she batted .390 in the second spot in the lineup. She has a solid arm in right field.
Ava Livingston will take over behind the plate this season. She batted .538 last year and provides protection for Tzaferos and Alexa Panagopoylos in the middle of the lineup.
Panagopoylos sported a .400 average last year, was second on the team in home runs and drove in 31.
Sophia Vento, a junior outfielder, hit .431 and gives the lineup a speedy runner who can steal bases. She will lead off this season for the Devils.
Hammonton lost ace pitcher Makenzie Edwards to graduation and this year, senior April Lewandowski will anchor the staff. She started at first base last year and went 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA in limited action in the circle.
Also returning this year are letter-winners Kam Bagnell, Jadyn Barker, Giada Palmieri and Abby Baines who should all see spot starts and action off the bench. Barker is in the mix to start at first base and provides Hammonton a slap hitter from the left side.
Among the new players expected to contribute are Gracie Ravenkamp who will be the number two pitcher and can play around the infield, and Rachel Regn, who will fill a utility role.
Depth, a strong lineup and solid pitching have Shulman and the Blue Devils confident entering the season.
“We expect to complete and continue to uphold the standard of Hammonton softball. Each year we expect to compete for a league and sectional title. We understand that after the success we experienced last year we have a big target on our backs and have to be 100 percent focused 100 percent of the time,” Shulman said.
Hammonton opens the season on April 1 against Vineland at 4 p.m.