Winner in the outfield


Heather Cacciola has felt the exhilaration of a huge win.

Four times, in fact.

The St. Maria Goretti senior is a member of the Southwest Fillies, a softball team that has clinched four straight Department of Recreation championships.

In the most recent title game, played in August at Veterans Stadium, Cacciola went 4-for-4 at the plate.

The athlete also is a four-year member of the Goretti Lambs softball team. That squad’s history is a different story.

Year after year, the Catholic League Southern Division team struggles to a one- or two-win season.

Cacciola has still thrived, becoming a two-time All-Catholic selection, but she would love to enjoy the same success with Goretti that she has had with her summer team.

"[Losing] gets kind of hard," the 17-year-old said following Monday’s practice.

But she added that the camaraderie makes up for the team’s record.

"At Goretti, softball is fun, and it doesn’t matter if we win or lose," she said — though "winning would be nice."

Cacciola might be able to help the Lambs turn around. After all, the Boothwyn resident was once an underdog with the Fillies.

Two years ago, she was a 15-year-old shortstop in the 2001 Junior Olympic National Slow-Pitch Championship. Philadelphia isn’t considered a hotbed of softball success, but there the Fillies were, competing in the Mississippi tournament. The players disproved all doubters — including themselves — when they defeated an all-star team from Tennessee and became the first team from Philadelphia to win a National Junior Olympic softball game.

Cacciola’s coach at Goretti, Chip Reitano, believes the player’s experiences can be helpful to the whole team.

"She believes more than some of the other kids that it is possible to win," said Reitano, who is starting his first season as the squad’s coach. "By her playing on a team that was as successful as it was did help her progress as a softball player."

The outfielder, who also played on Goretti’s basketball team, displayed some of that progress on the softball squad last year, when she went from an Honorable Mention All-Catholic as a sophomore to a Second Team All-Catholic as a junior. In her first nine at-bats this season, Cacciola has three hits and two RBI.

Reitano, who coached the player on the basketball team for four years, is well aware of her athletic abilities. This past season, Cacciola averaged 10 points per game and picked up Third Team All-Catholic honors. After a 5-0 start, the Lambs went winless in Catholic League play.

Reitano, who played softball in a men’s league at Finnegan Playground in Southwest, hopes his spring season will be more successful. He’ll count on his star outfielder and other veterans to help make the transition a smooth one.

"I think the seniors have really stepped up and taken on a leadership role, which is really going to help us," the coach said.

Reitano’s arrival marks the Lambs’ third coaching change in four seasons, but Cacciola, an honor student, said it hasn’t affected her efforts on the field.

Still, Goretti has yet to coordinate its talents to compete against the Catholic League’s best, including Southern Division leaders Archbishop Carroll, Cardinal O’Hara and Archbishop Prendergast.

The Lambs are usually on a level playing field with Little Flower, Hallahan and West Catholic. Today, they will try to gain an early edge over West, with whom they split the season series last year.

As a Southwest native, Cacciola particularly looks forward to the games.

"I think the games against West Catholic are more important because they are on our level," said the athlete.

Realistically, Cacciola knows Goretti isn’t ready to match the success of her Fillies squad, but she and her teammates are still determined.

The players fielded grounder after grounder at a bitterly cold practice Monday afternoon in preparation for the regular-season opener against O’Hara, which was postponed due to rain.

The Lambs hope to slowly build momentum to clinch the fourth playoff spot in the Southern Division. While a Catholic League title may not be within reach, Cacciola plans to leave her mark as a First Team All-Catholic. Reitano sees his starting center-fielder as a big component to the winning equation.

"She is a good all-around player who does the little things you need to be a successful team," he said. "You need that senior leadership and right attitude, and she really brings that to the table."

Four city championships probably have a little something to do with it.