Thirteen turned out to be an unlucky number for the Malverne softball team this spring since that win total wasn’t good enough to qualify for the playoffs. But on the flip side, the number represented the continued progress the program has made in recent seasons.
The Mules finished the season hot by winning nine of their last 11 games to finish 13-5 in Conference VI play and 13-6 overall. The wins were three more than last year and a whopping 11 from the 2021 squad that struggled mightily.
Malverne finished fourth in Conference VI behind undefeated Elmont, Valley Stream South and Lawrence, schools it went 1-5 against this year, but coach Nick Moreno was still very happy with his team’s performance.
“These girls worked hard, they really did,” he said. “Definitely they were running the bases better and fielding [better]. We lost seven starters last year and they definitely picked it up.”
Malverne was missing a lot of its starters during a 1-3 slide in early April that ultimately cost the Mules a playoff spot, but the girls avenged a 15-1 loss at Lawrence on April 11 with a 15-6 triumph on May 3. Olivia Brown, Julie Brienza and Anyely Rijo combined to drive in 12 runs to back pitcher Nirvana Cole, who went the distance for her third win.
“That was definitely one of our most gratifying wins, showing Lawrence that they might have had us that one game, but if we had our starters, we could’ve been 2-0 against them.” Moreno said.
Seniors Brienza (.607 average, 3 HR, 45 RBI) and Samantha Frey (.629, 1 HR, 34 RBI, 30 SB) put plenty of fear in opposing pitches from the 3-4 spots in the lineup, while the latter paced the team with 10 pitching wins with 71 strikeouts and 4.75 earned-run average in 59 innings. Both earned All-Conference honors for their efforts.
“Her and Samantha Frey, at three and four, was just unreal,“ Moreno said. “We knew we were going to get a run in in any inning they were hitting. Losing them is going to hurt.”
Those RBI opportunities were set up by top of the order batters Rijo, Julie Rodriguez and Olivia Jenkins. Rijo, a junior who never played softball before, batted .400 with 14 RBI and 17 runs scored, and Rodriguez posted similar numbers (.396, 18 RBI, 31 runs). Jenkins, a sophomore, hit .429 and was successful on all 17 of her base stealing attempts.
Junior outfielder Luz Rodriguez hit .300 on the season, including a walk-off single against Uniondale on April 22, and sophomore Brown is developing into the team’s “next power hitter,” according to Moreno. Cole had 58 strikeouts in 43 innings pitched during her sophomore campaign while batting .326 on offense.
Despite losing Brienza, Frey and Julie Rodriguez to graduation, Moreno is already excited for 2024 because of the talent coming up from the JV squad and the continued growth of Brown, Rijo and Jenkins.
“We should be contenders again next year, without a doubt,” Moreno proclaimed.