Defeating Toms River North, Southern Softball Squad Grows More Confident
Emily Thompson never knew what it was like to hit the ball, touch them all and have her moment in the sun until she delivered what was, to date, the biggest hit of her young softball career on Monday, April 10. But for sure, she picked a heck of a time to whack the first home run of her career.
“I was trying not to think of the count. I just wanted to see the ball and hit it,” said the sophomore, who belted a one-out solo shot to left-center field on an 0-2 count in the top of the seventh inning to give Southern Regional the go-ahead run in a 4-1 victory over Shore Conference Class A South rival Toms River North.
“When I hit it, I was thinking about a double. But then I looked and saw it going over the fence. I was shocked, but it was awesome. At that point, everybody was pumped up and we were ready to win. Then it was like dominoes.”
Yes, cue the domino effect. After Thompson made it 2-1, junior Sarah Manna followed with a single to left, and senior Hanna Van Waalwijk smacked a double into the right-field corner to put runners at second and third. With two outs, senior Holly Essinger legged out an infield single to bring in Manna with the third run, before sophomore Keeley Himmelreich drilled a double into left-center for a 4-1 lead.
That was plenty for sophomore pitcher Tatiyana Ford, who had given up three hits heading into the bottom of the seventh. She gave up another single to the leadoff batter in North’s final at-bat but then shut the door on the Mariners, as the Rams improved to 4-0 to start the season.
“It feels good to be 4-0,” said Ford, who struck out a pair and walked three. “I was nervous at first because this was a big game for us early in the season. But we’re all working well together, and the fielders behind me have been doing a great job so far. We’re excited about starting off so well.”
Ford gave up the Mariners’ only run in the bottom of the first. The Rams bounced right back in the top of the second when Essinger singled to center with one out, went to second on a single to center by sophomore Jackie Herrera, and senior Sophia Mastandrea brought in Essinger with a single to left.
While Southern knocked on the door in the third and fourth innings but failed to bring in the go-ahead run, Ford managed to work out of a jam in the fifth, when North had runners at the corners with two outs. Working well in tandem with sophomore catcher Taylor Bass, Ford induced a flyout to left to end the threat.
In the bottom of the sixth and runners on first and second with one out, Bass tossed out a runner at third base trying to advance on a wild pitch that didn’t get far enough away. Bass threw out another baserunner attempting to steal third in the third inning.
“Taylor’s been doing great behind the plate so far,” Ford said. “She and I work really well together, and I trust her to call the right pitches.”
The Rams had two more opportunities to keep the winning streak going later this week, against division rivals Jackson Memorial on Wednesday, April 12, and Toms River South on Thursday, April 13. Two years ago, en route to an Ocean County Tournament championship appearance, Southern started off 4-0 as well. It’s been a lot longer since Southern has started 5-0.
“We have a great feeling about this season,” said Van Waalwijk. “Starting off with three wins was good, but we know Toms River North is always good, and we weren’t sure what to expect today. After winning this game, now we know what kind of team we have and that we can have a really good season.”
On Saturday, April 8, the Rams crushed Central Regional, 10-4, during one of the many games on the slate for the Strike Out Autism Challenge. Ford was 3-for-4, while Bass, Herrera, Manna and Mastandrea each had two hits. After opening with a 13-8 victory over Henry Hudson on April 3, Southern came back from a 6-0 deficit and scored an 8-7 win in eight innings against division foe Brick Memorial on April 4.
The rest of head coach Nicole Astegher’s squad includes seniors Mary Kate Flanagan and Alessia Martino, sophomores Maggie Brummer, Colleen Camburn, Christina D’Amodio and Chrissy Rinaldi, and freshman Megan Curry.
“Most of us play travel ball, so we might be young in a lot of positions but we have players with a lot of softball experience,” Van Waalwijk said. “One thing that’s going to benefit us is that we have a strong lineup throughout the batting order, and we have solid defensive players all over the field.
“At this point, we are not too sure how many wins and losses we would have this season. But now, after beating North, we’re totally certain we can have a really good season.”
— David Biggy