Southern, Pinelands Regional Softball Squads Off to Hot Starts
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 the Southern Regional softball team 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; then 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 Erica Ponticello to lead off 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, when she walked Amanda Joyce, who stole second, and allowed a two-out bloop single to left off the bat of Jade Warner, scoring Joyce from third. The Rams bounced right back in the top of the second when Essinger singled to center with one out, then 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 Warner at third after she had tried to advance on a wild pitch that didn’t get far enough away. Bass threw out Joyce at third base in the third inning as well, preventing a potential North scoring opportunity.
“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 off 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.
Wildcats Start Off 3-0
A dozen miles to the south, the Pinelands Regional softball squad also got off to a hot start in its first full week of action this spring, going 3-0 through its first few contests, including a big 7-0 victory over Lacey on Monday, April 10.
With the Lions back in the Shore Conference Class B South division after eight seasons in A South, the Wildcats greeted pitcher Chelsea Howard in a harsh way, banging out 11 hits and making a statement to the defending NJSIAA South Jersey Group III champs in the first of two regular-season clashes.
After three scoreless innings, Pinelands scored twice in the top of the fourth, then added a run in the fifth, three more in the sixth and culminated the offensive onslaught with another run in the seventh. Lacey also made four errors along the way. Meanwhile, Pinelands junior Jessie Rising kept the Lions’ big bats at bay while firing a one-hitter with seven strikeouts. It was Rising’s third straight shutout.
At the plate, senior Nicole Burke went 2-for-5 with a double and three RBIs, while senior Cassidy Buckley went 2-for-3 with a double and a pair of runs batted in, and senior Madison Dancisin went 2-for-4, as did junior Brianna Suralik. Teresa Hudson, Allyson Vezos and Rising each had hits as well.
On April 8, Pinelands scored an 8-0 victory over Toms River East as part of the Strike Out Autism Challenge, during which Rising tossed an 11-strikeout no-hitter. Burke whacked a three-run double in the top of the fifth to break a scoreless tie, and Hudson also swatted a double.
On April 5, the Wildcats opened the season with a 12-0 drubbing of Lakewood. Rising tossed her first no-hitter of the season, striking out 13 through five innings. Pinelands scored three runs in the first before unleashing a nine-run barrage in the second. Burke went 3-for-3, and senior Amanda Cusicanqui went 2-for-3.
Bengals Split First Four
In Barnegat, the Bengals had an up-and-down start to the season, splitting their first four games en route to a 2-2 mark. Barnegat kicked off the spring on April 5 with a big 2-1 victory over Class B South foe Jackson Liberty.
Senior Emma Lloyd, sophomore Molly McEneaney and senior Roxy Urso each started the season with singles before senior Devon Leary belted a two-run double to give the Bengals a 2-0 lead after the first inning. Barnegat managed just one more hit off Liberty hurler Meghan Conroy, but Lloyd was just as solid, allowing five hits while striking out six and walking two. The Lions scored their only run in the sixth.
Two days later, the Bengals couldn’t get anything going against Brick pitcher Christine Frazee, who had 14 strikeouts, and dropped a 6-0 contest. But on April 8 as part of the Strike Out Autism Challenge, Barnegat bounced back against Kamryn Hubeny and won a 9-8 contest over Henry Hudson.
The Bengals scored five runs in the fifth and never looked back. Senior Tymera Crudup reached on an infield single, before Molly McEneaney singled and Urso was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Leary, who delivered a two-run single to left-center field. Freshman Priscilla Pitiak, running for Urso, then advanced to third base and scored on consecutive passed balls. Leary also scored on a passed ball, and sophomore Tori Leonard, who singled, eventually came around to score on an error off the bat of freshman Alaina DeSanti.
In the bottom of the fourth, Barnegat made it 7-0 when Lloyd led off with a single and Urso smashed a two-run homer. The Bengals finished with eight hits.
On April 10, the Bengals dropped a 5-1 decision to Class B South foe Donovan Catholic, which took a 3-0 lead into the fourth before scoring twice in the top of the seventh to seal the victory. Barnegat scored its only run in the third and managed four hits.