WARREN, NJ - The Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) varsity softball team had a season for the ages last spring.

The Lady Warriors finished with an overall record of 28-5, took first place in the Somerset County Tournament, won the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 crown, and ultimately captured their first-ever Group 4 championship.

The Warriors ended the year No. 2 in the NJ.com Top 20 and came out on top in their final 13 games of the season -- with six shutouts -- including a 4-0 victory over previously unbeaten Egg Harbor in the Group 4 title game at Kean University.

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“It was a great run. We knew we had a chance for a special season,” said seventh year head coach Mike D’Alessandro. “We set high goals and everything came together. We were playing our best ball down the stretch.”

In order to extend the winning streak at the start of this season, they’ll have to replace seven seniors -- six of which were starters -- including First-Team All-State outfielder and the program’s all-time hits leader Kayla Schinik. Schinik batted .438, collected 49 hits, drove in 16 RBIs, scored 24 runs, and stole 23 bases all while playing superb defense last year.

Annie Suitovsky, a Second-Team All-State member, also batted .438 on the season, recording 48 hits, 18 RBIs, and 31 runs scored.

While Watchung Hills lost significant offensive firepower in Schinik, Suitovsky, and fellow 2016 starters and graduates Brooke Aldrich, Alyssa Murray, Julia Stasil, and Nicole Carroccia, the Warriors get back Third-Team All-State junior pitcher Robin McCabe.

Her performance last year in the tough Skyland Conference in the regular season, then the county tournament, then the playoffs was 

McCabe finished with a 14-4 record from the circle, striking out a whopping 165 batters, walking only 20 and giving up a mere 21 earned runs.

“She is real good,” D’Alessandro said. “Very few pitchers can move the ball like her and she’s unflappable in the circle. She’s a very steady and quiet leader.”

Izzy Definis, Tina Zoppi, Genna Cicchetti, Lauren Murphy, Erin Bean, Julia Skrobacz, Julia Amaino, Lianna Meehan, Shelly Zoppi, Brielle Tomasetti, all will look to fill the big shoes the senior-laden team from a year ago left.

Definis and Tina Zoppi racked up 46 hits combined in 2016, while Cicchetti had 16, Murphy had 15, and Bean had eight. Definis, a junior, totaled 23 RBIs and smashed two home runs as well, figuring to be the leader at the plate.

“We had some excellent players with us last year who were just waiting for their opportunity to step in,” D’Alessandro said. “Girls like Erin Bean, Julia Skrobacz, Lauren Murphy, and Shelly Zoppi.

“Meehan was outstanding on junior varsity last year and should be a big bat for us in the middle of the lineup this year. Freshman Sophia Cichetti is very athletic and can help us in several ways.”

While the team in terms of the roster is different in 2017 than it was in 2016, the goals remain the same for D’Alessandro’s squad.

“We are looking to continue the winning tradition we’ve established over the last six years,” the coach said. “If we play fundamentally sound softball and stay healthy, there’s no reason why we can’t compete again in the Skyland Conference as well as the county and state tournaments.”

The Warriors open the brand new season with a home game on Monday April 3 against a strong Greater Middlesex Conference opponent, Monroe, at 4 p.m.