Four Stritch seniors don’t get chance to defend title

J. Patrick Eaken

Cardinal Stritch softball coach Tony Esposito had a three-year plan to get the program on track, and he was ahead of schedule.
Last year, the Cardinals shared a Toledo Area Athletic Conference championship with Toledo Christian. The Cardinals were 9-14 overall and both teams finished 6-2 in the league in Esposito’s second season at the helm.
However, being his third year at the helm, he wanted to see the program get back to where it once was. Stritch has had a long history of a successful softball program prior to 2014 with 11 TAAC championships.
There was no third season for Esposito because of the coronavirus pandemic, and for his seniors, they never got to prove that they could take Cardinal Stritch softball one notch higher.
“I believe with the talent we had this year we would have had a very strong chance of another TAAC championship,” Esposito said. “We made shirts for our spring sports calling it the 2020 undefeated season where we are ‘winning the bigger game.’
Four seniors leave their mark on the program after not taking the field their final year of high school — Amber Daly, Hannah Crosley, Lydia Rodriguez and Brianna Jagodzinski.
None of the four are committed to playing college ball, but Daly has expressed interest with Lourdes University and wanted to focus on academics first, says Esposito. As a junior, Daly batted .364 (21 for 66) with 18 runs, 21 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and a .970 fielding percentage at shortstop.
Daly, an Alan Miller Jewelers honorable mention selection, finished second in the voting last year for TAAC player of the year, and Esposito thought she was the top contender this season. Also, she is Salutatorian for Cardinal Stritch class of 2020.
“Amber Daly has been with the Lady Cardinals softball squad for three years and has been a staple of our infield at shortstop,” Esposito said. “Born with gifted athletic talent to span a variety of sports, she excelled to All-TAAC honors both of her previous years.
“Her enthusiasm and attitude has risen her to captain status as she leads and inspires the underclassmen to play above their comfort zone to become better players as we become a better team. Combined with her academic achievements, she is a leader both on the field and in the classroom,” Esposito continued.
Esposito says he would like to hold a senior night game, but his time is limited because Crosley has enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a medical assistant and is off to boot camp June 10.
Crosley, also an HM All-Press selection, batted .382 (13 for 34) her junior year with seven runs, eight RBIs, six SB, and a .972 fielding percentage at second base, catcher and in the outfield. She has participated in Stritch softball all four years of her high school career.
“With her God given athletic talent and her team first attitude, she has been asked to fill many roles for our squad including catcher, first base, second base, and outfield,” Esposito said. “After an offseason shoulder injury, she was able to teach herself left hand batting and has become a threat from both sides of the plate. Her glove and batting skills have proudly earned her membership into last season’s second team All-TAAC.”
Esposito adds that “Lydia Rodriguez and Brianna Jagodzinski have been team players from the start and I cannot say enough of how much their maturity and leadership has increased since I first took over three years ago.” Jagodzinski plays second base and Rodriguez can play anywhere in the infield, but mostly shortstop.
“In the four years that Brianna Jagodzinski has been our second baseman, she has become a vocal inspiration for her teammates. She has made great efforts in constantly improving her softball skills as well as the knowledge side of the game, and it shows. Her confidence level has elevated exponentially and is reflective in her response to pressure situations at bat and in the field.
“Lydia Rodriguez has been involved with Lady Cardinal softball for her four years at CSCHS. With a very busy schedule both on the field and with other school activities, Lydia has an outstanding work ethic and attitude, she has made the adjustment from shortstop to third base almost seamlessly,” Esposito continued
“She is the quiet leader, who leads by example and is determined to continually improve all facets of her game. The results are quite apparent. Lydia is the epitome of the phrase I constantly preach to the team, ‘Just give your all, all the time.’”
Looking ahead
Esposito is already looking toward 2021, but it will bring challenges.
“After our seniors graduate this year, we will start next season with only two players who have any high school softball experience. This year's squad had four seniors, two juniors, seven 7 freshmen and there was no junior varsity squad,” Esposito said.
That includes HM All-Press pitcher Jocylyn Ahumada, who as a sophomore last year was 6-6 with a 5.49 ERA in 65 innings pitched, striking out 46 while allowing 103 hits and 61 earned runs. Allie St. Claire, a sophomore catcher and HM All-Press selection, batted .323 (21 for 65) with 22 runs, nine RBIs, seven SB, and an .827 fielding percentage.
Esposito has a long history of coaching at the school. He was junior varsity softball coach for six years from 2010-15 and assistant JV baseball coach for two years in 2016-17 before being asked to coach softball.
Helping him as an assistant is Stritch alumnus and his daughter Rachel Esposito, and Tony credits all of the players who have helped him coach for the past 16 years.
At all grade levels K-12, Tony has been a coach for 27 years, although this is his first paid high school coaching position. He also football in grades 5-8 for 24 years, baseball in grades 5-12 for 14 years, softball in grades 3-12 for 13 years and basketball in grades 3-12 for eight years.


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