Niagara Gazette

Sports

April 22, 2013

Playoffs or bust for budding Patriots

Niagara Gazette — Rob Costanzo has had a goal in mind for Niagara Catholic softball since taking over as coach before last season.

The Patriots haven’t played in a Monsignor Martin Athletic Association playoff game in seven years. Heading into their final game last season against Mount Mercy, it appeared the drought would end. Win and they were in the postseason for the first time since 2006.

They lost 3-0.

But Niagara Catholic returns nearly its entire roster for this season, and the way last season ended has Costanzo believing the team is right on the cusp of competing with the larger schools in the MMA. For the first time in years, it’s playoffs or bust for the Patriots.

“We don’t have a lot of girls, but the ones we do have will be playing at the collegiate level over the next few years,” Costanzo said. “I think if we can get this program going, you’re going to start seeing we can compete with anybody."

A big reason for optimism around Niagara Catholic is its nucleus of talent in upperclassmen Frankie Costanzo, Jessica Chandler and Marissa Ruffolo.

Costanzo, a senior, is looking to nab her third straight team MVP award. A first-team all-Catholic player last season, the Patriots’ everyday catcher had 15 RBI and led the team with a .581 batting average.

For everything Costanzo does at the plate, she may be an even bigger asset behind it as she threw out 18 base runners a year ago. She will play at Division II Mercyhurst College next year, Rob Costanzo, her father, said.

With the graduation of her sister, Felicia, Jessica Chandler returns for her junior season to lead the Patriots from shortstop. Chandler drove in a team-best 25 RBI last season and led a loaded MMA with seven homeruns. She’ll bat cleanup once again.

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