BY WARREN RAPPLEYEA Staff Writer With several key players back, the Raritan High School softball team will be looking to improve upon last season’s 12-9 mark under new coach Aado Kommendant. The Rockets have historically relied on pitching and defense and last year that combination enabled the Raritan to qualify for the NJISAA Central Jersey Group II tournament where they knocked off Ewing, 5-2, in the opening round, before bowing to Bordentown. Although Raritan scored just 64 runs in 21 games the Rockets still managed 12 wins. “There’s a solid nucleus of players here and we have a good program,” Kommendant said. “Former coach Janet Citro did an excellent job and she’s been great in helping me settle in.” Citro, the longtime Rockets coach, resigned from the post last June. Kommendant, the former St. John Vianney mentor, took over the helm. Suzanne Gorcynski and Tricia Reingle, two former Vianney standouts who played for Kommendant at SJV, serve as assistants. The new coach asked the school’s athletic director, John Verderossa, to schedule as many scrimmages as possible so that Kommendant could get to know his players quickly. Despite some iffy weather, the Rockets will have 15 scrimmages under their belts before the season starts this afternoon at Marlboro. “We scheduled 15 scrimmages hoping to get eight of them in,” Kommendant said. “But we’ve played most of them and that will really be a plus. In three weeks it’s almost like we’ve played a full season. They know what to expect from me now.” Meanwhile, the new coach expects that the Rockets will remain competitive in the Shore Conference’s Class B Central division. One key reason is the return of pitcher Kerrilyn Svenson. The senior posted a 12-9 mark to go with a glittering 1.11 ERA a year ago, while working every inning of every game. The new coach said he plans to occasionally spell Svenson on the mound with a pair of promising sophomores, Samantha Strickland and Amanda Maloney. Svenson, who will play for the University of New Haven next spring, also led the team in batting with a .338 average and in RBIs with eight. Offensive contributions will also be expected from Samantha Helmstetter, an excellent defensive center fielder, who hit .276 a year ago, and juniors Cassie Illig and Alyssa Mautone. Illig, the right fielder, hit .269 with five RBIs, while Mautone, who plays first base and shortstop, is coming off a .250 campaign with a home and seven runs-batted-in. Second baseman Melissa Mancuso drove home seven runs a year ago as did junior catcher Jill Martin, who also blasted a home run. Third baseman Celeste Dayawon, batted just .140, but drew nine walks and scored a teamleading 10 runs. Other members of the team include outfielder Courtney LaCapria, speedy left fielder Daniele Raneri and outfielder Kiera McCabe, both juniors, along with two freshmen, shortstop Bobbie Boehler and DH Tiffany Dahlquist. “The key for us will be taking a little pressure off our pitching and defense and to do that we need to score a few more runs,” Kommendant said. “That will give the girls some margin for error.” Following today’s game against Marlboro, the Rockets return to Hazlet for their home opener April 3 against division rival RBC. Kommendant noted that his team would host a free youth softball clinic on April 11, following the Rockets game against Pinelands, which is slated for a 10 a.m. start.