Serena Gilbride pitched a shutout in the final game – and the biggest game – of her high school softball career, leading Austin Prep to a 3-0 victory over Turners Falls at Rockwood Park on the campus of Worcester State University.
It was AP’s first-ever state softball championship and Serena was completing her first season as the No. 1 pitcher. A senior right-hander with a splendid repertoire of pitches, Serena had a magnificent 24-2 record for the Cougars who were ranked No. 1 among all schools in Massachusetts at season’s end.
But it could be said that the foundation for AP’s amazing run was set years ago on the fields of East Boston where Dr. Robert Gilbride and his daughter, Serena, worked together to build Serena’s softball skills and confidence.
Dr. Gilbride, a well-known Eastie dentist, was in the stands in Worcester for what can only be described as a storybook ending for Serena and her teammates, including friend Alexandra Santosefano, who made softball history for the college preparatory school in Reading.
Beginnings in Youth Softball on East Boston Fields
This softball success story begins when Serena was a young player joining her friends in the junior division of the popular East Boston Girls Softball League.
“I coached Serena for one year in that league,” recalled Dr. Gilbride.
At the age of nine, Serena made her debut as a pitcher for the East Boston Waves whose head coach was her father. Serena’s softball talent, not only on the mound, but at the plate and on defense, was noteworthy and with the guidance of her father every step of the way, they sought out other levels of competition.
She excelled for high-level club teams such as the Academy, Rapid Fire, Lady Rebels, and Noreasters, always facing the best competition in New England.
Serena began taking indoor pitching lessons from Bob Mahoney and made significant improvement in her techniques.
Working Toward an Opportunity at Austin Prep
Serena enrolled at Austin Prep in the seventh garde and earned a spot on the junior varsity team where she pitched well for three seasons as the Cougars compilied winning records.
Promoted to the varsity as a sophomore, Serena played outfield and provided some key hits for some outstanding teams that advanced deep in to the State Tournament behind ace Logan MacDonald, who is now playing at Babson College. With MacDonald on the mound, Serena waited patiently for her chance to be the ace of the pitching staff.
“Serena couldn’t get a lot of innings in, but she stuck it out – she never wanted to transfer, she stayed at the school and she was rewarded with a senior year for the ages,” said Dr. Gilbride.
Serena delivered clutch performances all season for the Cougars, who were challenged by their Catholic Central League opponents.
Austin Prep had come close in previous seasons, playing in the state final in 2016 and 2017 (losing to Turners Falls both times) and in the state semifinal in 2018 (losing to eventual state champion Abington).
But this spring, Serena and her teammates were not going to be denied. Led by Serena’s pitching, the Cougars earned a dramatic 2-1 victory over St. Mary’s in the Division 3 North final.
South champion Case High School proved to be a formidable obstacle in the state semifinals but Austin Prep prevailed, 10-7, with Serena battling through an injury after being struck in the shin bone by a line drive in the final inning. She produced 12 fly-ball outs in the game because of her superior change-of-speed pitches and location.
Serena saved her best for last as Austin Prep bested their long-time nemesis, Turners Fall, to win the state championship.
The Boston Globe proclaimed Austin Prep the state’s No. 1 team in their final poll.
Praise From her Austin Prep Coaches
Austin Prep softball head coach Frank Sorrenti said Serena was instrumental to the team’s success, not only as the top pitcher but in terms of senior leadership.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to win a state championship,” said Sorrenti. “What Serena did and the shoes that she filled this year, was just incredible. I don’t think anyone in their wildest dreams thought that we would take it to the level we did, but Serena was a huge part of it. She filled a void for us. She was a totally different pitcher than what we were used to.
“She pitched to contact. She hit her spots. She’s calm and cool all the time, never gets rattled or ruffled. No walks – she yields a minimal number of walks. Always under control.
“This season was one for the ages – I don’t think the girls really realize the kinds of things they did this year,” said Sorrenti. “They just believed that they were going to win this year.”
Looking back at the 3-0 victory over Turners Falls, Sorrenti offered, “Serena was at her best that day. She totally shut them down. They couldn’t muster any kind of attack. Our defense made the plays. It was a like a dream – it was really unbelievable.”
Sorrenti said it was a pleasure to enjoy the journey with the Gilbride family.
“They were there all the time – I know that,” said Sorrenti. “They watched from afar and let Serena do her thing and she did. She took it and ran with it. We have a great pitching coach [Michelle Bruno Brewer from Revere] and a great catcher [Frankie Frelick of Lexington] and a great defense that came together to really make Serena almost unhittable in some situations. In her own way, Serena was dominant this season.”
“She was phenomenal and tough and hit her spots all season,” said Brewer. “She’s been a pleasure to coach.”
A Proud Father’s Reflections
Dr. Robert Gilbride should probably write a book about team-building and coaching youth sports.
The memories of his daughter taking the field for the first time in Eastie are vivid, her dedication to wanting to improve and grow as a softball player through private pitching lessons a family decision that was rewarded in the end.
“Serena would go early Sunday mornings to take the pitching lessons,” recalled Dr. Gilbride. “We would drive up to Woburn, winter, rain or shine, and she learned curveballs, drop balls, changeups – and now her arsenal is full of those pitches.”
Serena is very grateful to her father, who saw in her the potential to be great.
“Without him, I wouldn’t be the pitcher or player I am today or the state champion that I am today,” said Serena. “Getting up early every Sunday morning and going to the lessons – that’s what helped make me the player I am today.”
There were also the father-daughter conversations about softball practices and pitching strategy, along with the trips to the field for individual practices with her younger brother, Robert (a baseball player at Austin Prep).
Nancy Gilbride also gets credit from the softball star.
“I feel like I get my independence and traits like that from my mother, which are really nice,” said Serena. “I think from both my parents, I get my self-driven attitude and strong mentality, which super important as a pitcher to have. And I try to set a good example for my brother.”
An excellent student, Serena will be attending Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.