Joe Ciccarello was asked what the signature victory was for his rapidly rising Revere High softball program this season.
The answer: an upset of perennial Middlesex League powerhouse and recent two-time Division 1 state champion Lexington in the first round of the State Tournament â€“ on the Minutemenâ€™s home field, no less.
â€œThat was a turning point for the program â€“ a â€˜we have arrivedâ€™ moment,â€ said Ciccarello. â€œBeating Lexington, the Middlesex League champion, at Lexington was a very good win for us and it told our girls that on any given day we can beat any given team.â€
Ciccarelloâ€™s efforts this season earned him the Northeastern Conference Coach of the Year Award. The program has advanced quickly under his direction. His first team went 3-17 but the Lady Patriots have won 22 games and qualified for post-season play the past two seasons, and the future â€“ with a host of returning players including freshman phenom pitcher Sabrina Palermo – looks exceedingly bright.
â€œWhen I took over this program three years ago, I always thought that I didnâ€™t want to coach a team, I want to coach a program,â€ said the 43-year-old Ciccarello, a mathematics and economics teacher at the high school. â€œEvery year we want to be competitive and go further in the tournament and I think thatâ€™s what happening right now and the other coaches are recognizing that.â€
The Lady Patriots impressed long-time fans with their strong execution of the fundamentals â€“ a trademark of Ciccarello-led teams. An early-season showdown with eventual NEC champion Lynn Classical â€“ a game that was tied 1-1 in the sixth and in which All-Star catcher Lindsay Gurska hit a home run â€“ was a sign that Revere was climbing the conference ladder.
Gurska, a junior who developed this season in to one of the best catchers in the area, junior center fielder Jackie Noel, and senior first baseman Michaela Maguire received All-Star recognition. Maguire and graduating players Alex Ambrosino, Courtney Gurksa, and Brianna Lauletta are credited with helping the program advance to the next level.
Palermoâ€™s emergence as a fire-balling right-hander with other strikeout pitches in her repertoire, was a launching pad to the Patriotsâ€™ success. â€œWhen you bring a lot of speed to the mound like Sabrina does, it gives you a chance offensively to get going because you know sheâ€™s going to hold the opposition down,â€ said Ciccarello. â€œShe had a great year for a freshman but is she wants to jump to the next level and carry us past teams like Central Catholic and Lynn Classical, she has to work in the off season.â€
Ciccarello said another noteworthy development for the team was the all-around performance by sophomore outfielder Cassandra DiBella, one of several players who previously excelled for the middle school team coached by Peter DiCarlo.
â€œI thought Cassandra Dibella was the biggest surprise of the year,â€ said Ciccarello. â€œThe whole coaching staff was impressed by how well she played her position in right field â€“ sheâ€™s fast and caught up with a number of fly balls. And at the plate, she has a really quick bat and good speed on the bases.â€
Another impressive newcomer to the varsity was freshman second baseman Christina Stella. â€œShe played excellent second base,â€ said Ciccarello, who added that the other half of the middle-infield combination, sophomore shortstop Logan DiCarlo, is a â€œbudding All-Star.â€
â€œAs far as Iâ€™m concerned, Logan is the face of our program; she always has a smile on her face and sheâ€™s a really nice kid,â€ said Ciccarello. â€œI love this team â€“ theyâ€™re great kids.â€
Ciccarello brought considerable coaching experience and a history of winning to the Revere program.Â Â A former hockey goaltender and Class of 1987 graduate of Savio Prep, he was the softball coach at Savio for ten seasons, leading his team to eight post-season berths. As the Savio hockey coach for eight seasons, he led the Spartans to five consecutive North Sectional finals and three Sectional championships.
Ciccarello said the sport of softball has been an integral part of his life for a long time. In fact, softball led him to meeting his wife, Adeline (McCarthy), a former East Boston High softball star pitcher.
â€œDuring the summer of 1996, she was helping out as a coach of an East Boston team and I was coaching the Savio team,â€ said Ciccarello. â€œAnd thatâ€™s how we met.â€
Ciccarello cites neighboring Malden, this yearâ€™s Division 1 North Sectional champion and state finalist, as an example of how a team can become a contender for a state championship â€“ the place where the Revere coach hopes his program will be as soon as the 2013 season.
â€œIf we want to be like that, then we have to play at the next level of softball all summer long,â€ said Ciccarello. â€œWe have to take the next step by playing highly competitive softball in the summer like our opponents are doing.â€
And if the improvement over the last two seasons in an indication, the Lady Patriots could be playing softball in mid-June next year.