Overtime

Dave Ruden offers news, commentary and analysis on the FCIAC and local sports

Vazquez continues to be quite a catch for St. Joseph

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EXTRA-BASE-HITS2You only need to watch one of her towering home runs or throws down to second base to discern that St. Joseph catcher Jenn Vazquez is a special talent.

But what makes her one of the state’s best — and among the most underrated — players is her cerebral approach to softball. And that was best evidenced last Friday, during an extra-inning loss to Danbury.

The Hatters’ outfield, according to Cadets coach Jeff Babineau, was situated near the New York border. The third baseman was closer to left field. Vazquez, who is hitting .436, with 3 home runs and 14 RBIs in 11 games, did not achieve those numbers with subtlety.

“She looked at me and nodded at me,” Babineau said. “Then she dropped down a bunt. We work at it. Our No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters have to be able to squeeze down a bunt. I thought it was excellent of her.”

Natural talent, hard work and a selfless approach have served Vazquez well during her four years with the Cadets. Last season, as a junior, Vazquez batted .468, with 8 doubles, 2 triples, 8 home runs, 30 RBIs, 37 hits and just two strikeouts in 84 at-bats. There were just three stolen bases against Vazquez all season.

“She’s just a good solid player,” Babineau said. “She’s a great hitter. And she has a cannon for an arm.”

St. Joseph catcher Jenn Vazquez is greeted by teammates following a home run against New Canaan earlier this season.

St. Joseph catcher Jenn Vazquez is greeted by teammates following a home run against New Canaan earlier this season.

Vazquez is headed to play at the Division I level next season at Manhattan, her father’s alma mater, for former Danbury boys basketball coach Tom Pardalis. The seeds were sewn not at the kitchen table, but a trip three years ago with former Cadets pitcher Nikki Cote.

“She dragged me to camps and I had no idea what they were,” Vazquez recalled. “I talked to the coach and he seemed to like me. Since my freshman year I knew I wanted to go there.”

Vazquez has won a state championship in the sport, and now she would like to win an FCIAC title before she graduates. The Cadets are one of six teams currently in a close battle atop the standings, with little apparent difference between them.

“At practice a few days ago Coach was reading down the rest of the schedule and me and Kristen Chacho were like, a little slower please,” Vazquez said, referring to the Cadets’ other co-captain. “That’s when it hit me that time is running down. He read through it all in like 10 seconds.”

Less obvious but of equal importance is Vazquez’s leadership qualities. Two years ago she caught for two senior pitchers, Cote and Micki Keltos. This year the Cadets also have a pair of talented pitchers, Nicole Williams and returning starter Tori Ceballos.

Ceballos recalled when she took over as the Cadets’ starter a year ago. “She really welcomed me and she was a big support for me,” Ceballos said. “She helped me a lot to not be nervous. She pushed me, and made sure I stayed grounded. She works really hard.”

This spring Vazquez has been working hard trying to accelerate the development of Williams, a freshman.

“She’s definitely learning as she’s going,” Vazquez said. “It’s not hard catching for two pitchers, especially since they both throw very well.”

Added Babineau, “She’s done quite well with her maturity being a senior. She’s been through it before and is really good working with pitchers and their emotions. She keeps an even keel. She’s a good batterymate.”

Vazquez’s keel may indeed get thrown off, however, if she attains her biggest goal of the year.

“I’ve never won an FCIAC championship and that’s something you really want,” she said. “Whenever someone brings up the state championship, I bring up the FCIAC championship. I know we are capable of it.”

Top of the order

BASEBALL

1. ST. JOSEPH (9-2): You could make a strong case for four teams in the top spot. We will bump the Cadets up into the position following an impressive win over Danbury on Friday.

2. GREENWICH (9-2): The Cardinals have shut out three opponents during their current four-game winning streak

3. RIDGEFIELD (8-2): It seems sort of absurd that New Canaan — still considered a slight favorite — could slip from No. 1 to out of the top 3 based on just a loss to Ridgefield. Such is the parity atop the conference this season, where six teams have either one or two losses in league play. The Tigers are hot right now, but one suspects teams will be dropping in and out of the rankings until the playoffs begin.

SOFTBALL

1. DANBURY (9-1): Huge extra-inning win over St. Joseph on Friday by the Hatters, who this week will have to earn remaining in this spot, with games against rival Ridgefield, Darien and Stamford.

2. WESTHILL (9-2): The hits — literally — keep coming from the league’s most consistent offensive lineup. Quality win at Fairfield Ludlowe last week.

3. FAIRFIELD LUDLOWE (9-2): The Falcons get to occupy the No. 3 spot by virtue of wins over equally deserving St. Joseph and Stamford.

3B. STAMFORD (9-2): We create this position for one week only to highlight the most difficult five-day stretch any team will have this year: the Black Knights play at Ludlowe on Monday, at Westhill on Wednesday and host Danbury on Friday.

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