Pinelands Captures First State Sectional Softball Championship

By DAVID BIGGY | May 30, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy

Jessie Rising had been dreaming of a moment like this since she was a little girl. She’d just struck out the last two batters of a state sectional championship softball game, celebrated and took hold of the trophy with her Pinelands Regional High School teammates, and could barely catch her breath.

“This is unbelievable! I’m at a loss for words!” said the junior pitcher, who fired a four-hitter with eight strikeouts to help lead the Wildcats to a 3-0 win over Seneca in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III tournament on Tuesday. “I’ve been dreaming about this forever, and I’m just so blessed to be a part of this.”

Capturing the program’s first-ever sectional title, the Wildcats advanced to the Group III semifinals, where they will meet Central Jersey winner Steinert on Thursday, June 1.

“It’s definitely about time. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said senior shortstop Nicole Burke, who turned a crucial double play in the top of the sixth to help preserve the shutout. “I don’t know which is more exciting – winning two Ocean County championships or the first section title in school history. This is insane!”

Burke was part of the 2014 and 2015 squads that captured county titles. But unlike those teams, which fell short of winning section crowns, this year’s crew found a way to get that elusive championship. And it started in the second inning, when the Wildcats scored two runs to give Rising the only lead she needed.

After Amanda Cusicanqui reached on an error to lead off the at-bat, Ally Vezos, who was 2-for-3, whacked a double to deep center field, putting Cusicanqui on third. With one out, a ground ball back to the pitcher off the bat of Nicole Ramirez led to Cusicanqui, running on contact, tagged out at home. Ramirez later stole second base to put runners back on second and third, before Cassidy Buckley sent a short fly ball to left field. The ball dropped between the shortstop and left fielder, and both Vezos and Ramirez crossed the plate.

“I didn’t think that would be the hit that won the game, just because it was still so early and I wasn’t sure how much it would matter,” said Buckley, who had another hit in the fourth and dropped a sacrifice bunt in the sixth. “But sometimes that’s all you need.”

In the bottom of the fifth, Pinelands (20-8) added its third run. Jordan Leeds led off with a bunt single and went to third when Burke reached on an error, putting runners on the corners with none out. Madison Dancisin dropped a safety squeeze bunt, but Leeds got hung up between third and home and was tagged out. An infield single by Rising loaded the bases for Cusicanqui, who delivered a fly ball to center, which scored Burke from third with a sacrifice fly.

From there, it was Pinelands’ game to lose, and in the sixth, Rising received more help in the field. With runners on first and second and none away, Burke cleanly fielded a ground ball off the bat of opposing pitcher Eliza Sweet, stepped on second for a force and fired to first to complete a 6-3 double play. Rising fanned the next batter with a 3-2 changeup on the outside corner.

In the seventh, the Golden Eagles (15-9) put their first two batters on base and things were getting tense for Rising and her teammates. But the next batter, Brooke Spruill, grounded a ball right back to Rising, who fired to first for the out, allowing the other baserunners to advance. Rising then struck out the No. 8 batter, Cami Albrecht, on four pitches for the second out.

At that point, it was clear to see Rising bearing down. With an 0-2 count on No. 9 batter Angela Haines, Rising gritted her teeth and brought the heat to finish off Seneca, setting off the celebration.

“This was for all the teams that came before us in this program,” Rising said. “I just wanted it for my teammates and for all of them. It was for the entire Pinelands community. That’s why I play this game. I put on this uniform and give my best for all of them. And today, we did it. We got that title.”

Admittedly, Buckley said she wasn’t certain at the start of the season that the Wildcats had the team to win the section crown. But during the past few days, she believed it was their time.

“The other day, I had this weird feeling that we were going to do it,” she said. “And today, just a few hours before the game, I had that same feeling. It was one of those feelings … it was just something you knew.

“For us, it’s all about chemistry. We’re a close-knit team. And we’re scrappy.”

On May 26, the Wildcats knocked off 10th-seeded Triton, 6-1, in the section semifinals. Pinelands scored three runs in the bottom of the first and never looked back, adding a run in the third and two more in the sixth to seal the victory. Rising went 4-for-4 with a double, triple and an RBI in the batter’s box and fanned 12 while giving up just four hits. Brianna Suralik was 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles and an RBI. The Wildcats registered 12 hits.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McDonald | Jun 06, 2017 14:47

Congratulation to all the Lady Wildcats on the Pinelands softball team. You have performed magnificently throughout this outstanding spring season of softball against some very talented high school softball teams throughout the area, and all your hard work has been handsomely rewarded with this new level of achievement you have earned for yourselves and your high school. Here's wishing you all the best in your future endeavors.

If you wish to comment, please login.