Two-Sport Star Named Putnam/NWE Player of Year
When it comes to Lakeland High softball, two names continually stood out in the pantheon of Hornet greats: Both Janine Turner and Janine O’Connor were inducted into the Lakeland Hall of Fame back in 2000, the second installment of Hornet inductees. Turner, perhaps the most dominant pitcher of her era in the wee 90s, and O’Connor, the slugger with more sizzle than any Hornet ever, will be forced to make some room in the assemblage for outgoing senior P Colleen Walsh; the recently-minted 2017 Putnam/NWE Female Athlete of the Year.
Walsh, a two-sport star, who also hustled her way into the heart of softball coaches Joe Chiara and Steve Fallo, as well as girls’ hoop Coach Miranda Lustig, narrowly nipped several others, who were strongly considered for the honor, including Somers senior lax/hoops player Livy Rosenzweig, Carmel junior golfer Lauren Peter, Put Valley’s three-sport senior Antonia Hoyos, Panas three-sport senior Carlyn Mucci and two-time volleyball All-American Yvette Burcescu (who doubled on the hoops court), Ossining senior hoops standout Andra Espinoza-Hunter and Yorktown lax/volleyballer Michelle Seger.
Walsh, who went 18-2 with 176 strikeouts in 130 innings, admitted her five-year varsity career would have been deficient without winning Lakeland’s first Section 1 championship since 1984, so she made sure her mission was accomplished when she defeated Eastchester, 15-5, for the Class A title and a venture into the state playoffs where the 24-2 Hornets would fall in the NYSPHSAA quarterfinals to eventual champion Maine Endwell.
The Sacred Heart-bound Walsh hit .467 this season and crushed five homers after hitting just one in her previous four years combined, and drove in 32 runs, three more than her sophomore and junior seasons combined (29). She added a team-best 42 runs scored.
While Turner pitched as well as any Hornet in history, and O’Connor slugged with the best of them, Walsh hit and pitched at an unprecedented rate, according to Coach Fallo, who has been with the program for more than two decades.
“Colleen is a terrific student in the classroom,” Fallo said of Walsh, who sports 3.7 GPA and carried an A.P./honors workload of classes. “She has the dedication, work ethic, drive, teamwork and that will to do whatever it takes to win or give your team a chance to win.”
Lakeland chances were as strong as ever with Walsh in the circle, despite the fact that today’s softball lineups trump those of yesteryear: Meaning Walsh faced the toughest competition of any Lakeland windmiller, according to Fallo.
“No disrespect to Janine, who was a warrior on the mound, but I would give the nod to Colleen because of the way the girls’ game has evolved since the early 80’s, especially in regard to how many good hitters there are now. The lineups of today – 1-through-9 – are a lot different than the 80’s. Kids are playing year-round now and are much better these days.”
Walsh was also a superior hitter to just about any pitcher in Lakeland history, according to Fallo.
“Colleen made herself into one of the best hitters in Section 1,” Fallo said. “Without a doubt, Colleen was a huge reason we won the Section 1 title. The bigger the game, the better she pitched. You don’t win unless you have a stud on the mound. We have had one for five years every time she toed the rubber. Her career numbers are off the charts.”
Her career pitching stats are unparalleled: 68 wins against 18 losses, 680 K’s, 573 innings pitched, 23 shutouts, four no-hitters, and one perfect game. and 111 games played; all school records.
She bumped her career batting average by more than 50 points this season by hitting to the tune of .467 BA (42 hits, 42 runs, 32 RBI and just 2 K’s in 102 at-bats) and finished her career as a .378 hitter (95 runs, 131 hits, 73 RBI and just 13 whiffs in 374 at-bats).
“As a teammate, all the players know that Colleen will always have their back,” Fallo said. “She leads by example when she steps on the field, and in that circle she plays the toughest position day in and day out. She will be remembered here at Lakeland as one of the all-time great athletes and competitors, male or female, for both softball and basketball.
None of that would have amounted to a hill of beans, had the Hornets not gone on their championship-clinching run in early June, according to Walsh, a humble kid by nature, who was adored by teammates.
“Honestly, my high school career would not have been complete without a section title,” Walsh admitted. “We have accomplished a lot as a team but that was something we worked towards for a few years. We worked hard all season and that was our ultimate goal. It meant a lot to me that we won during my senior year, I couldn’t have asked for a more spectacular way to end my four years of high school.”
There’s about 15 or so Hornet teammates who would likely agree with the need to win it all this season, and Walsh, who went out like John Elway (on top of her game), was the choice for Athlete of the Year in and about Northern Westchester/Putnam region.