Titans finished second in region last year
By Connor Iapoce
County College of Morris Titans softball looks to stay motivated as they open the 2018 spring campaign after last season’s 3-4 defeat in the Region XIX Championship game against Lackawanna College stopped ended their chances of reaching the College World Series.
Head coach Greg Wardlow is now in his 14th season coaching softball at CCM; under his command, the team started training beginning Thursday, Feb. 1, but irregular weather made it difficult to practice outside prior to the Titans’ Friday, March 9 season opener.
“We’re practicing on average like five days a week,” Wardlow said. “It’s tough in the Northeast because you are limited by the weather and the field conditions. We try to use the space available to work on what we can.”
The makeup of the team has changed since the previous year’s lineup with the team made up of mostly new players and five returning sophomores. A key addition to the Titans was the acquisition of four new freshman pitchers, replacing former Titans powerhouse pitcher Mary Mastriani who, after setting a CCM record for most wins for a softball pitcher at 43, now plays at NCAA Division I St. Peter’s University.
“Obviously, our pitchers can get in work in the gym just as well as they can outside,” Wardlow said. “So we put a premium on pitching development. We have four freshman pitchers this year all of which were pretty good high school kids. We try to maximize their development in February.”
In recent years, the program has found a solid footing with three trips to the Region XIX championship game in the past three seasons. The Titans won the region in 2016 but were unable to go back-to-back last season. Wardlow said he is optimistic about the team’s chances of reaching the game once more this season.
“We’re kind of optimistic going into this season,” Wardlow said. “We always have hopes of going to the World Series which this year is mid-May in Mississippi, so we try to promote that motivation and enthusiasm to the players. We talk about going to Mississippi; that’s our objective every year. It’s not easy. You have to win your conference, win the region tournament, and then you have to win the district tournament to get there. Two years ago, we came close. We won our region for the first time in 25 years, and we played the district championship, and we won our first two games. We just got beat, though. Once step short. Last year, we lost in the final of our region tournament. But, that’s our goal. We are excited to start the season.”
The Titans team has focused their sights on the end goal of reaching the region tournament and beyond. Many Titans returning sophomores are set on returning to the big stage to prove the team’s newfound talent, especially with their new bullpen.
“We try not to put too much of a premium on winning games early in the season. It’s all about development.”
Greg Wardlow Titans head coach
“Honestly, I hope to win regions because last year we came in second,” said Carly McDaniel, a sophomore shortstop. “I think that we have a better chance this year because we have four pitchers. Last year, we only had one”
Other returning sophomores are focused on proving their determination and collaboration as one core Titans unit.
“I think we’re going to do really well,” said Ally Tufaro, sophomore outfielder. “We have a lot of talent. Everyone gets along, which is very important on a team. We need to probably improve on consistent winning streaks.”
Wardlow said he knows the team must focus on the length of the season to stay consistent over the course of the 56-game season. He emphasized the team’s development over focusing on a winning record.
The Titans will have games against GSAC members and Region XIX rivals as well as a visit to Cocoa Beach, Florida punctuating the front half of the season. The team will match up with other junior colleges from around the country during the Florida trip with the outcome of the games still weighing on the overall season record.
“We try not to put too much of a premium on winning games early in the season,” Wardlow said. “It’s all about development. The conference schedule is a small portion of our schedule. We have 56 games scheduled between now and the end of April and only 10 of which are conference games. We’ll play games in Florida which count towards our overall record, but whether we win or lose those games is not all that important. We need to be over .500 to qualify. We want to be playing our best at the end, so you have to try to keep an even keel between now and the end and just try to keep getting better and better.”
Wardlow said softball was a part of his family when his daughters played, and when that ended, he continued his involvement of the sport at CCM.
“I make this part-time job into a full-time job which means that I enjoy it,” Wardlow said. “I come to school every day, and I enjoy every aspect of it. Whether it’s recruiting high school kids during the season or in the summer or coming out here and practicing every day. Obviously, I’m a competitor, so we try to build this program to win, but it’s also very rewarding to develop kids to help them not only in their athletic pursuits but academically as well. I think that’s probably what we take the most pride in as coaches is seeing these kids do well at their next stop.”
Tufaro said that she feels welcomed at CCM.
“It’s a very welcoming atmosphere,” Tufaro said. “I transferred from a different school that I played at, and I thoroughly enjoy this much better.”
County College of Morris Titans softball are a member of the Garden State Athletic Conference and NJCAA Region XIX at the Division II level. The Titans open their home season with a doubleheader against Rowan College at Burlington County starting at 12 p.m. Saturday, March 24.