Tuckerton-Little Egg Harbor Leader

Pitcher Rising, Infielder Suralik Lead Pinelands Softball in 2018

Spring Sports Preview
By DAVID BIGGY | Apr 06, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy Jessie Rising

After the Pinelands softball team made history last spring by capturing the program’s first NJSIAA South Jersey Group III championship, the obvious question has been raised: Can the Wildcats do it again?

Well, any good coach likely would say anything’s possible, but Keith Lowe isn’t just any good coach. He’s very much a realist and he was quite aware of the Wildcats’ situation heading into this season. This year’s squad is vastly different than the one that went 22-9 and technically added another Ocean County Tournament title, even though they never got to play the championship game on the field.

“We graduated five seniors that started every game and played major roles in the field,” Lowe said, following the Wildcats’ 6-5, come-from-behind victory over Central to start the season March 31. “The new kids on the team have played softball. But what they don’t realize yet is, given what we’ve accomplished the past four or five years, we want to play at the highest level. And teams in this division really want to knock us off.

“So these young players are going to have to experience it before they truly understand it, and that’s already started. Hopefully, they learn quickly that this is the real deal and they have to rise to a new level.”

Of course, Lowe doesn’t have anybody better to lead the way than the Wildcats’ ace pitcher, senior Jessie Rising, who in the fall is headed to Manhattan College to play for the Division-I Jaspers. And no doubt he’ll be looking at Rising to take charge both in the circle and as a vocal leader, along with senior second baseman Brianna Suralik.

“They’re the seniors who have been here and they have no choice now: the rest of the girls need them to take that bull by the horns,” Lowe said. “They’re not always going to come to me. And they’ll need that peer leadership to really come out in Jessie and Brianna.

“They have those leadership qualities, but sometimes they don’t know how to use them, because they haven’t had to. So, they’re growing into these new roles as well.

“We’ll see how it works out.”

Despite Rising and Suralik as capable leaders lighting the way, Pinelands definitely will have its work cut out when vying for the Shore Conference Class B South division crown – the odds-on favorite being Donovan Catholic, one of the state’s better teams. Still, the Wildcats should have a shot at the public-school division title, and definitely can make another run at a county crown.

Doing so will require consistent run production as well as solid defense.

“We definitely need consistency at the plate and in the field,” Rising said. “But more than anything, it’s a consistent mindset. Sure, we’re going to make errors in the field – everybody does. But it’s how you approach things after that, how you make adjustments. And if we can be consistent with our mindset from the first inning to the seventh, every game, we’re going to win a lot of games.”

Behind the returning senior starters, classmates Madison Hawkins and Alexis Murdock, a junior varsity player a year ago, will see increased roles in the outfield and first base, respectively. Junior Ally Vezos may play a lot more third base this season, rather than first, as she did last spring. And junior Teresa Hudson will be Rising’s battery mate. The only other player returning to the lineup for a bigger role this season is Jordan Leeds, who will take over at shortstop.

Beyond that, Pinelands has additional youngsters who will be asked to raise their games: sophomore outfielders Adrianna Dancisin, Contess Barnard and Alyssa Rodriguez.

“We’re going to face some tough teams this season, especially in our division,” Suralik said. “We had a tough preseason because of the weather, but now that we’re going to be practicing and playing more outside, I think it’s just a matter of building our confidence and knowing we can get the job done.

“We’re starting to develop the chemistry on the team, and we’re expecting it to keep building.”

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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