Raquel Roder, the Weehawken High School head softball coach, should know a thing or two about standout pitchers.
That’s because Roder once was a Hudson Reporter All-Area pitcher for Hoboken High School. Roder knew all the ins and outs of being a successful hurler.
So when Roder got wind of an up-and-coming pitcher among her ranks at Weehawken named Savanna McHale, she quickly took notice.
“I had her older sister [Isabella Quinones] play softball and volleyball for me,” Roder said. “And she said, ‘You have to watch my little sister coming up. You’ll be impressed.’”
So Roder made it a point to go watch McHale, a rising eighth grader, in the summer recreation league.
Actually, there are three McHale sisters (Savanna, Brooke and Brianna) that all play softball and are all just a year apart. They come from a special family, Shawn and Rosalie McHale’s prized group. They live in Jersey City, across the street from Washington Park, one of the city’s premier locations for softball.
“I started pitching when I was six years old,” Savanna McHale said. “My Dad is my biggest fan. He has been my pitching coach for the longest time. We would throw together all the time.”
Two years ago, disaster struck the family, when mom Rosalie succumbed to lung cancer after a brief battle. Rosalie McHale was just 50 years old.
“I didn’t get out of my room for a week,” McHale said. “I was so upset.”
Savanna had a right to be emotional, having lost her mother and leaving a family of a father with four daughters.
Shawn McHale had a way to have the girls get over the emotional loss of their mother.
“Every morning, he would take us running,” Savanna McHale said. “It was done to clear our minds. After a couple of minutes, I would feel better. I knew that I had to be up and happy for my sisters, because I hated to see them upset. So if I was up and happy, I thought I would be able to pass it on. I think it helped that my sisters and I like to hang out together. We are very close. We have a strong bond. We are the biggest goof balls. We like talking in different voices to make each other laugh. We come up with different scenarios and goof around. It drives my Dad crazy. But that’s what we do.”
They also play softball – and do it quite well.
Savanna entered Weehawken High (as a tuition student, no less) simply because she liked the way Roder and her staff treated McHale’s older sister during her time at Weehawken High.
“I liked it here,” McHale said. “The people here were tremendous. I was going to get a good education, which is very important to me. Softball isn’t the priority.”
When McHale made her first appearance at Weehawken, the other softball players were startled.
“They said, ‘Coach, she’s very good,’” Roder said.
But no one could have ever imagined just how good Savanna McHale would become.
McHale exploded onto the local softball scene this season and lately unleashed a string of terror to opposing hitters galore.
In the most recent games, McHale fired a no-hitter in a 10-0 win over Saddle Brook, striking out 12. She then fired one-hitter against Dayton Regional in the opening round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I playoffs, striking out 17 in a 2-0 win. She then threw a two-hitter in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I quarterfinal against Glen Ridge in a 6-1 Weehawken win, marking the first time ever that the Indians had ever advanced to the state sectional semifinals.
In that game, McHale gave her all, closing out her brilliant rookie campaign with a two-hitter against Whippany Park, striking out nine in a 1-0 setback.
McHale is also an accomplished hitter, collecting four hits and four RBI in the win over Saddle Brook and had three hits and three RBI in the win over Glen Ridge in the state tournament. In fact, McHale batted an even .500 on the season with 31 hits in 62 at-bats with one homer and 27 RBI.
For her efforts, McHale has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week, the final honoree for the current scholastic sports season.
Roder said that McHale is very mature for her age.
“I guess when you lose your mother so young, you really don’t have a choice,” Roder said. “Losing a Mom like that is the worst thing that could happen to anyone. But Savanna is a very good student and very grown up for her age. She just has that athletic mindset. I watched her play volleyball and she was strong and athletic. She’s a powerful young lady. So I knew she would handle this. She is extremely impressive. You would not think she’s a young freshman. I think she has a very competitive mindset and that carries her. She has good poise. She’s also very humble, which helps.”
Roder likes the relationship she has with her star pitcher.
“She comes in and gives me a cute little smirk and that lets me know everything is fine,” Roder said. “She just wants to do her best every time.”
McHale amazingly pitched just 63 innings this season, yet struck out 136 batters and walked only seven. That’s just uncanny control.
“I know I did pretty well, but I didn’t think I’d do this well,” McHale said. “My Dad always tells me to just do the best I can. That’s what I try to do.”
Incredibly, Weehawken had only 10 players on their roster, yet advanced to the state sectional semifinals. A lot of that has to be attributed to McHale.
“We were really lucky to get Savanna,” Roder said. “I came to a recent clinic we held for the younger girls and by the time I got to the field, there was Savanna teaching the little girls to pitch. I am beyond fortunate.”
Roder’s luck continues over the next two years, when sisters Brooke and Brianna join the Weehawken fold. For now, it’s all Savanna.
“The plan is for me to come back next year and be even better,” said McHale, who will continue to pitch for her summer travel program the Lake Dukes out of Edison. “I hope to someday go to a high academic school in college. That’s what I’m shooting for.”
And young Savanna has a major goal in mind.
“I’d love to become an oncologist,” Savanna McHale said.
She saw what Mom had to go through with her cancer battle and wants to give back.
That might be the most impressive fact about Savanna McHale to date, more impressive than no-hitters and strikeout totals. – Jim Hague