Central Catholic Raiders Softball '08

Habib perseveres to become Central ace

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Thursday, June, 05 By Dave Dyer
Staff writer

Resiliency has paid off for junior pitcher Liz Habib and, as a result, for the entire Central Catholic softball team.

Early in the season, the prospects did not look particularly promising for Habib or the Raiders, who were looking for someone to take the baton from graduated All-Merrimack Valley Conference pitcher Rachel Merrick.

Habib, a resident of Methuen, was one of several candidates to replace Merrick, but the varsity newcomer was hardly the favorite. When she was shaky in her season debut on the mound, a 6-3 loss to Dracut, it looked like her chance at being the No. 1 hurler was doomed. For a few games, in fact, freshman Meg Donegan started.

"I knew I messed up at the start of the season and I was frustrated," said Habib. "I was kind of down, but I worked harder, on my own and with my pitching coach, and the coach (Stacy Ciccolo) gave me a second chance."

Smart choice by Ciccolo, as Habib has boosted the Raiders to a 17-6 record and a spot in the Division 2 North championship game Sunday at Martin Field in Lowell against Amesbury.

With the entire infield returning and Lindsay Martin and Lisa Policelli back in the outfield, everyone knew that Central would be strong, but | with the graduation of Merrick and All-Scholastic catcher Melissa Lucas | pitching was a huge question mark.

Rachel Wyrwa has filled in admirably behind the plate and Habib has emerged as one of the most effective pitchers in the region. In the tournament thus far, she has hurled three straight shutouts, the highlight being a three-hitter against Tewksbury, which was 19-2 and ranked seventh in Eastern Mass.

So what has happened?

"I've been working on my rise (ball) and working the change-up more," said Habib, who worked with Wyrwa on a regular basis during the offseason. "But I think my confidence has gone up a lot. At the beginning of the year, it was my first year on varsity and I was kind of nervous. Now I feel a lot better out there."

Habib also credits Ciccolo for calling her pitches. While some pitchers prefer to call their own game in conjunction with their catcher, Habib welcomes the input from her coach.

"She knows the other teams, what pitches the hitters can hit, when to throw certain pitches," said Habib. "I think it's easier on me."

Ciccolo agrees: "I just think that Liz has stopped thinking about the hitters and what the hitters are capable of doing. I think she has now realized that her job is just to focus on whatever pitch we are calling and putting her energy into throwing that pitch | one pitch at a time."

Habib is not an overpowering pitcher, but she's rapidly becoming a dominant one. Methuen coach Jason Smith, whose club scored only one run in two games against Habib late in the season, has noticed the transformation.

"From what I've heard from her summer coaches, she's much more focused now," said Smith. "She's not going to overpower people, like (Methuen pitcher) Sarra (Bergeron), but she keeps them off balance.

"I've been saying from the beginning that, even though it was tough losing Lucas and Rachel Merrick, their lineup from top to bottom is better than last year. And now Liz has made them a lot tougher."

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