Devin Coia is poised to shine as six starters return for Vineland softball

by Chris Melchiorre, Updated: April 5, 2019, Philadelphia Inquirer 

During the offseason, Devin Coia found herself reflecting often on her Vineland softball team’s magical run.

And she still vividly recalls her biggest hit of the season.

It was the ninth inning of the South Jersey Group 4 championship:

“The fan section at that game was absolutely crazy — hundreds of people there, and here I am, tie game, and there’s a runner on second,” Coia said.

Coia was focused on keeping the ball on the ground, making sure she didn’t pop up.

She was nervous as she walked to the plate, but not while she was in the batter’s box.

“Once I get in there, everything just goes away," she said. "I can’t hear anything, I’m just so focused. That’s one thing everyone asked me, ‘Did you hear me?’ and things like that. I said: ‘Nope.’ I stepped in and everything just went away.”

Coia’s grounder up the middle was the game-winning hit in Vineland’s epic nine-inning victory over rival Millville, marking the first South Jersey title in the history of Vineland softball.

Her focus in that moment matched her approach to softball in general.

Regardless of the situation, she just produces.

Coia spent her first two seasons at third base for Vineland even though her natural position is catcher.

Now an upperclassmen and behind the plate full time for the first time in her high school career, Coia is poised for her strongest season yet. She’s one of six returning starters for a Vineland team with sky-high expectations.

“I don’t think anyone pictured Vineland softball making it to the state championship last year,” said Coia, a Monmouth recruit at catcher. “But we all came together and did our jobs. It wasn’t just one person carrying the team, it was everyone. When we were down in every single playoff game, everyone contributed. It just makes us that much more excited for this season.”

As a freshman and sophomore, Coia was the starting third baseman and a backup catcher to established starter Korie Hague, now graduated. Coia loves being a catcher and was talented enough to start at the position for most other teams in South Jersey from her freshman season. But she accepted the fact that her team needed her at third base. She was OK with it. More than anything, she just wanted to play.

“She took a lot of extra reps after practice, learning third base,” coach Kristina Kulik said. “She worked with the coaches very closely at perfecting different facets of that position. And, yes, she did have to work at it. And it wasn’t easy for her. But she knew that it was best for our defense.”

And learning a new position never affected Coia’s offense. Last year, she had 21 hits and 29 RBIs while batting .408 for the 21-3 Fighting Clan.

Kulik said Coia’s even-keeled demeanor — the fact that nothing seems to rattle her — helped her through those first two seasons at third base. It also has helped her become a clutch hitter.

And, now, as a junior catcher, an even-keeled demeanor has helped her chemistry with star pitcher Nicole Ortega, and it has helped Coia establish herself as a leader on her team.

“She’s extremely patient, and she’s just a student of the game,” Kulik said. “She’s always always thinking ahead. And it’s really nice to have her behind the plate because I really value her perspective.”

With so much returning talent, Coia said her team’s sole focus is on reaching the state finals at Kean University and settling unfinished business from last season. Vineland’s final game in 2018 ended in a 6-5, 10-inning loss to North Hunterdon in the state championship.

Coia said she’s sometimes still moved to tears when she thinks about it or rewatches moments from that game.

“We’re all working harder to make sure we do win a state championship this year,” Coia said. “We even have T-shirts, and on the back, they say ‘115’ because that’s the distance [in miles] it takes to get to Kean University from our school. So every single game we’re pushing for that, every single practice.”