Buena Regional High School junior infielder Bridgette Gilliano has learned to “worry about the main event.”
Don’t worry about individual accomplishments. Just focus on the team.
Due to her team-first focus and contributions, Gilliano is The Press Softball Player of the Year.
Gilliano led the Chiefs to a South Jersey championship and a trip to the state Group I final.
Following the 7-1 loss to Cedar Grove in the final, she said the Chiefs know the bar has been set high, and they are determined to clear it.
“This year was different. This year, we knew we could get there,” Gilliano said of Buena’s postseason run. “The loss stung.”
Gilliano tallied 50 hits for the Chiefs this season. She sits at 151 for her career, having reached the 100-hit milestone in 2018. Another strong season in her senior year would give her a shot at 200.
“Two-hundred hits is my ultimate (individual) goal,” Gilliano said, “but I’m more worried about winning.”
The Chiefs’ memorable season showed they have the ability to go deep in the postseason. With a team that includes players such as Gilliano, Gabby D’Ottavio and Natalie Ampole, a return trip to the state final is not an outlandish goal.
“We need to get back there,” she said. “I don’t just want to get there. I want to get there and win. I know we can do it.”
The trip to the state final was the first in Pam Pickett’s 32-year coaching career at Buena. Pickett has been a role model to many players who have gone through Buena’s softball program.
“Coach Pickett is one of the people I can talk to about anything. I’m so grateful for the bond we have,” Gilliano said. “She’s taught me how to be not just a better player but a better person.”
Gilliano says her mindset on the field is due in part to Pickett.
“She’s the one who always told me, ‘Worry about the main event.’”
Team of the Year
The St. Joseph Wildcats are The Press’ Softball Team of the Year, thanks to a resilient run through the regular season and their South Jersey Non-Public B championship.
St. Joseph lost the state Non-Public B title game 4-0 to Immaculate Conception, which won a state-record seventh consecutive state title. Heading into a championship game against a team with that kind of streak can add much pressure to the underdog.
Not for coach Les Olson.
“There was no pressure on us going into that game,” Olson said. “We felt with the year we were having, we could compete with anybody. They were a great team and a couple of big swings made the difference.”
The Wildcats finished the season 30-3 and reached a state final for the first time since 2014. Senior shortstop Emily Jost had a .451 batting average.
“Winning 30 games (school record) was a pleasant surprise. The girls really came together since the offseason conditioning programs and preseason and we went on a run winning the first 18 games,” Olson said.
Several of the key players who led the Wildcats this season were seniors, but Olson says he believes they will be a force to be reckoned with again next season.
“We’ll miss our seniors, but we had great underclassmen performances this year and have a good mix of freshmen, sophomores and juniors going into next season.”
Coach of the Year
Buena Regional coach Pam Pickett has seen much happen on the softball diamond over the past 32 years. The 2019 season gave Pickett something she had never previously experienced: an appearance in the state championship final.
The Chiefs lost the state final to Cedar Grove 7-1 on June 2 at Kean University. Regardless, it was a major accomplishment for Pickett and her players, who finished the season 24-5.
Pickett is The Press Softball Coach of the Year.
“The experience was really exciting for the girls,” said Pickett, who won her 600th career game in 2017 and is the winningest active coach in South Jersey.
“One of their goals this season was to make it all the way to the state final. Even though it didn’t go our way, they had a great run at the end of the season. They put in the time to be successful. The coaching staff as well.”
After 32 years seasons, Pickett still says every day is a learning experience with her team.
“As you get older, you learn a bit more patience,” she said. “You build relationships with the kids, and you realize there is more to the game than just winning and losing.”
THE FINAL PRESS SOFTBALL ELITE 11
1. Donovan Catholic 30-2
2. Delsea Regional 20-4
3. Northern Burlington 14-6
4. Bordentown 20-7
5. Burlington Township 20-7
6. Kingsway Regional 18-6
7. St. Joseph 30-3
8. Buena Regional 24-5
9. Millville 19-3
10. Moorestown 13-10
11. Vineland 20-7