Pinelands Regional Softball Squad Confident It Can Compete in Stacked B South Division
Pinelands Regional High School softball coach Keith Lowe has had some good teams during the past five years; two of them won back-to-back Ocean County championships in 2014 and 2015. But something Lowe hasn’t had over the years is an entire squad coming back for another season.
He has that luxury this season, as the Wildcats return everybody from last year’s 19-6 crew.
“It’s definitely exciting to have everybody back,” said junior second baseman Brianna Suralik, one of the team’s leading hitters and an excellent defensive player. “We’re working hard. Our defense is strong, and we care about each other. Offensively, we’re going to have to produce runs, but we’re confident in ourselves.”
With the Wildcats’ opener against Central Regional, slated for April 1, rained out and its second scheduled contest against Shore Conference Class B South foe Lakewood postponed a day, Pinelands has had a somewhat restful start to its season. But that’s going to change in a hurry because the B South division is no joke this spring.
Donovan Catholic, the defending NJSIAA Non-Public South A champ, is stacked this year. Defending Ocean County champion Jackson Liberty has a veteran pitcher and a solid core of its lineup from last year back again. And after spending eight years in the A South division, Lacey, the defending South Jersey Group III champ, and senior pitcher Chelsea Howard now reside in B South.
“We know the challenges of our division, and we’re going to stand our ground,” said senior center fielder Madison Dancisin. “A lot of people are probably thinking we’ve been good for too long and it’s time for us to go away. But we’re still as good as we have been in recent years. We’re a good team, and we’re going to fight to win this division.”
Of course, doing so means the Wildcats can’t take an inning off. Pinelands is going to have to be at the top of its game every time at the plate and in every position on the field.
Defensively, it all starts with junior lefty Jessie Rising in the pitcher’s circle. Rising had a fantastic sophomore season in her first go following the graduation of former star Naomi Stas. But now as one of the veterans of the squad, Rising’s stock ticks upward, and she’s going to be asked to keep her composure in tight spots while going up against some of the better lineups in the conference.
“Having Jess out there really matters,” Dancisin said. “And we’re solid defensively. There’s not one player on the field I feel iffy about. We’re going to back up Jess and do our best to limit the mistakes, especially in the big games.”
With senior Cassidy Buckley behind the plate and Suralik at second, the rest of the infield consists of senior third baseman Amanda Cusicanqui, senior shortstop Nicole Burke and sophomore first baseman Alyson Vezos. Besides Dancisin patrolling center, sophomore Teresa Hudson, who also catches, most likely will see much of her time in right field, while senior outfielders Meghan Crawford and Nicole Ramirez, who was injured to start the season, are back for another season .
The newcomers to the squad include junior outfielder Madison Hawkins and freshmen outfielders Jordan Leeds, Adrianna Dancisin and Contess Barnard.
Offensively, the Wildcats have some pop, led by Suralik and Rising. But they’re going to have to produce runs against the better pitchers in the division – Donovan sophomore Lindsay Nelson, Howard and Liberty junior Meghan Conroy – if they’re going to make a run at a division crown and, later in the season, another county title.
“We’re definitely going to have to produce runs if we want to win games against most of the teams in our division,” Suralik said. “For us, I think it’s going to come down to keeping our heads, staying positive and whether we can bounce back when we have a tough inning. We’re capable. But we’re going to have to be at our best all the time.”
— David Biggy