Janae Barracato may just be a freshman, but she carries herself with the unwavering demeanor of a senior.
No situation has slowed down the infielder-turned-center-fielder from Hempstead, N.Y., whether it be a new position, long-distance travel or the heightened level of pitching in the Big East.
In just the first 30 days of her inaugural collegiate season, Barracato traveled to San Antonio and Huntsville, Texas, Greensboro, N.C., in addition to Madeira Beach and Clearwater, Fla., in an effort to avoid the winter cold. It was more traveling in two pages of the calendar than she had done in the previous 18 years of her life.
“I never went to Texas before, so that was pretty fun,” Barracato said. “It’s good, like, seeing different cultures and, I don’t know, just playing in different places, seeing new people, just having a good time.”
Even without the relentless travel schedule, time is normally needed to adjust to Division I athletics; however, no such grace period has been needed for Barracato. In her first season in South Orange, Barracato has cemented her position as the leadoff hitter for the Pirates, with a team-leading .336 batting average that is 25 points above the next closest teammate, Payton Beaver, who is coincidentally also a freshman.
“The thing that I love about [Barracato] is that she’s always adjusting,” head coach Paige Smith said after a doubleheader on March 24. “She had a couple bad at-bats in both games, but she waits and pounces when she gets a pitch she wants. She shows maturity well-beyond a freshman.”
It is a rare case of immediate success, but perhaps one of little surprise considering how long Barracato has been working to reach this stage. The journey toward being a Division I student athlete started at the young age of 5, with her older brother the catalyst.
“I started playing because of my brother,” Barracato said. “I used to watch his games, playing baseball, so I kind of wanted to be like him. So, I kind of followed his example.”
Barracato’s brother, Joseph, was a solid player in his own right, playing collegiately at Pace University, which was Division-I at the time. Although now the roles have been reversed, with older brother watching little sister, and often chipping in his suggestions on how to improve.
“I am very close with my brother,” Barracato said. “We talk, he tells me how I did. He critiques me, he watches the videos, he’s like ‘Why did you swing like that?’”
He is a tough judge, but it is little surprise considering the high standard the two have set. In addition to her brother, Barracato’s teammates in middle school taught her a lot about the proper work ethic to have, both on and off the field. Barracato took in the information, and it was during that period in which she began to realize her potential of playing at the college level.
“I started [to realize] around eighth grade, I played up for my older-8 youth team,” Barracato said. “And, it was a fun experience, because I got to look at the girls that were higher than me, and, they led by example. And, I wanted to be more like them, so I worked hard.”
Barracato’s hard work took her to Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girls high school in Hempstead, where she made a verbal commitment to Seton Hall before even taking the field for her sophomore season.
The decision to go to Sacred Heart was driven by academics, but Barracato aced tests on the field as well, batting .479 and .492 in stellar junior and senior seasons and earning Second Team All-State as a junior and First-Team All-State as a senior. Over her final three seasons, Sacred Heart went 45-10, and the Lady Spartans won their first ever state title in 2016.
Now, Barracato faces perhaps her toughest test on the field, with the prospect of helping lift a Seton Hall softball program that has finished under .500 for over nine consecutive seasons.
Despite this fact, there is optimism left regarding the Pirates, with four freshman starters, including Barracato, complimenting a team that had nine fewer losses in 2017 than 2016.
“We’re a young team, we’re starting three and four freshmen almost every game,” Smith said. “And again, I think it speaks a lot to our senior leadership, that, both the starters and non-starters that are freshmen have been able to perform this way.”
While Barracato originally dreamed of playing collegiate softball, like every other aspect of this spring, the converted centerfielder is adjusting her aspirations. Now, her goal is to help the Pirates one day hang a banner at Mike Sheppard Sr. Field.
“My ultimate goal is to help the team,” Barracato said. “Work hard, to be successful; pretty much to be consistent for the team and help us win the Big East, hopefully.”
James Justice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.