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Heist Gold softball standout players, from left, Angelina McGuire of IHA/Fairfield University, Victoria Ross of Bloomfield HS/Manhattan College, Lauren Catena of Newark Academy/Boston University and Devin Durando of Indian Hills/Albany get together for a National Letter of Intent College Signing Celebration at the Franklin Steakhouse in Nutley this past Monday night. (photo courtesy of Sergio Rodriguez)
Heist Foursome Get Together
NUTLEY- Sergio Rodriguez, the veteran softball coach at Newark Academy, first took notice of Lauren Catena when she was a seventh grader at the Livingston school. At the time, she was an outstanding track athlete who casually played softball on the side.
``She was a great athlete,'' he said. ``I felt that if she played softball, she'd be able to dominate.''
Rodriguez convinced her to go out for the team once she reached ninth grade, and she instantly became an important contributor for the varsity. She honed her game playing during the off-season for the New Jersey Heist program that's also directed by Rodriguez, and over the past four years has developed into one of the top players in Essex County.
Along the way, the shortstop and leadoff hitter also became a NCAA Division 1 college prospect, and she has landed a scholarship to continue her career at Boston University.
Three of her Heist teammates -- Victoria Ross of Bloomfield, Angelina McGuire of Immaculate Heart and Devin Durando of Indian Hills -- have also landed Division 1 scholarships, and the group celebrated their achievements with a Letter of Intent signing celebration on Monday night at the Franklin Steakhouse in Nutley.
Ross, a catcher and cleanup hitter for the Bengals, is headed to Manhattan. McGuire, a center fielder who hit fourth last year for IHA, inked her letter with Fairfield. And Durando, a hard-throwing pitcher who led her team to the NJSIAA Group 3 state title last year, will play at Albany.
``I'm overwhelmed by these kids,'' Rodriguez said. ``To have each of them accomplish a goal that they had set out for is very special, and they're all solid individuals as well.''
Catena went 51-for-100 last year with 11 doubles, three triples and five home runs last year for Newark Academy, She scored 43 runs and had 26 RBI. She set school single-season records for hits and runs scored.
She was drawn to Boston University, which now competes in the Patriot League, because of it's location within the city.
``Once I stepped on the campus, I knew it was where I wanted to go,'' she said.
When she departs after playing this year for Newark Academy and the Heist, she'll be thankful for what's she learned under Rodriguez, who arrived at Newark Academy in 2007.
``He's taught me everything I know about softball,'' she said. ``When I started, he took me aside and told me it was something I was good at. He saw the potential in me.''
``She's been one of the best players in Essex County for three years,'' Rodriguez said. ``She's not only a talented, she also has great instincts. She's also a fantastic base runner.''
Ross, who is also impressive behind the plate, hit .333 last year for Bloomfield with 25 hits, 27 runs and 30 RBI. She also hit five home runs.
Manhattan is a perfect fit for Ross, who had always wanted to attend a school in New York. She'll get to do that, while playing Div. 1 softball for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference school. And with all of the MAAC schools located within driving distance, her family will also be able to see her play on a regular basis.
``It's a big relief to get everything out of the way,'' she said about the the college selection process. ``I feel a lot of pride. It's the ultimate prize. I get to receive a college education at a discounted prize while getting a chance to play at the next level.''
Ross has been a Heist player since the tail end of the summer following her freshman year at Bloomfield.
``You don't play for many coaches like Sergio,'' she said. ``He's done so much for me. He knows the game inside-out. He's the greatest coach that I've ever had.''
McGuire has a been a mainstay since her freshman season at Immaculate Heart. She hit .333 in 2013 with 10 doubles, 22 runs and 22 RBI. She drew 27 walks and had a .527 on-base percentage. She also stole 12 bases.
By competing at Fairfield, she'll play against Ross and Manhattan in the MAAC.
``I loved the school and it's in a great location for me,'' she said. ``The campus is so beautiful. I met the coach and the players and they made me feel like I was part of the team when I went to visit.''
She's shown steady improvement while playing for Anthony LaRezza at IHA and Rodriguez with the Heist.
``I came into IHA as a shortstop and now I'm an outfielder,'' she said. ``I've learned so much from Sergio and Anthony. I wouldn't be here without them.''
Durando was 31-3 last year for Indian Hills, capping her campaign with a victory over Wall in the Group 3 championship game. She finished the season with 356 strikeouts.
Signing with Albany is making her senior year a more relaxing experience.
``It's a relief,'' she said. ``A lot of my friends are kind of stressed out. To know where I'm going and only have to do one application has made it a lot easier.''
``I fell in love with it,'' she said of her feelings toward Albany, which competes in the America East Conference. ``I visited a couple of schools, but it seemed like the right fit.''
In addition to her high school memories, she also appreciate the time she's spent with the Heist.
``Sergio has been a great coach over the years and playing for the team is always something to look forward to,'' she said. ``We're like a family. We always have a great time together.''
Follow Sean Reilly on Twitter @SeanReillyHS
Veteran Newark Academy head softball coach Sergio Rodriguez enjoys working with all the girls on Heist travel teams. (Photo by Glenn Kross)
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