Seniors Lead Way as Pinelands Regional Softball Squad Advances in State Tourney

May 24, 2017
Photo by: David Biggy Pinelands catcher Cassidy Buckley makes the tag at home during the fourth inning of the Wildcats’ 8-2 win over Toms River East in the first round of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III tournament on May 18.

At this time of the softball season, when tournaments can be one and done in a hurry, it’s often the seniors who come through in big ways. On May 18, Amanda Cusicanqui came through at the plate on multiple occasions, lifting Pinelands Regional High School to an 8-2, first-round victory in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III tournament.

“I guess it was my time to come through,” said Cusicanqui, who swatted a pair of doubles in three at-bats and drove in three runs during the win over 11th-seeded Toms River East. “We started off flat today, and it’s the job of the seniors to pick up the team and lead the way.”

Down 2-0 heading into the third, the Wildcats (16-7) got a big lift from three of their seniors – Nicole Burke, Madison Dancisin and Cusicanqui. With one out, Burke and Dancisin each bopped singles to left field. With two outs, Cusicanqui belted a double that one-hopped the left-field fence to bring in Burke and Dancisin to knot the contest.

In their next at-bat, the Raiders helped out by committing a pair of errors as the rejuvenated Wildcats tallied three runs. After junior Brianna Suralik reached on an infield single to lead off, freshman Jordan Leeds dropped a beautiful bunt for a two-out hit, and the two runners advanced on a wild pitch with Burke at the plate. Burke then reached on an error as Suralik scored the go-ahead run, before Dancisin reached on a two-base error by the left fielder, scoring Leeds and Burke to make it 5-2.

In the fifth, Cusicanqui led off with a walk and later scored on a Suralik single to left field. In the sixth, Dancisin led off with a walk, went to second on winning pitcher Jessie Rising’s single to left and scored on Cusicanqui’s second double to left. Rising capped the scoring when she raced home on a sacrifice fly off the bat of sophomore Ally Vezos.

Meanwhile, Rising settled in during the later innings after a shaky start during which she allowed four hits and four walks and had to work out of jams in each of the first three innings. Once Pinelands tied the contest in the third, Rising was helped in the fourth when Dancisin tossed out an East baserunner attempting to score on a single by Alyssa Raimondo, but she cruised from there, giving up just a bunt single during the last three innings.

The next day, Rising was stellar, firing a no-hitter with 14 strikeouts as Pinelands shut out 23rd-seeded Keyport in the first round of the Shore Conference Tournament. For the SCT, the Wildcats are seeded 10th.

In the first inning, Rising whacked a two-run triple to grab the only lead she needed. The Wildcats added their last run in the bottom of the sixth. Burke had the only other extra-base hit of the game, a double.

Now, things should get really interesting for Pinelands, which is playing in three different tournaments concurrently. But with a largely experienced crew, Cusicanqui believes the Wildcats still have plenty more wins in them.

“We have to keep our heads in the game,” she said. “We need to have energy in every moment of every game, and we need to have it right away, from the first inning.”

If field conditions were good enough to play following Monday’s heavy rain, Pinelands was slated to take on third-seeded Delsea in the quarterfinals of the state sectional tourney, with the winner meeting either second-seeded Mainland or 10th-seeded Triton on Thursday.

In the Ocean County Tournament, the Wildcats, as the second seed, were scheduled to face third-seeded Brick in a semifinals clash on Wednesday, with the winner advancing to play top-seeded Donovan Catholic (24-1) – which was undefeated before being stunned by 16th-seeded Matawan in the first round of the Shore Conference Tournament – in the championship. Pinelands won the OCT in 2014 and 2015.

In the SCT, the 10th-seeded Wildcats will travel to seventh-seeded Red Bank Catholic on Saturday, May 27, in the first round, with the winner advancing to meet either second-seeded St. John Vianney or 15th-seeded Raritan sometime next week.

Seasons End
For Rams, Bengals

While Pinelands still had several tournament games coming up, the Southern Regional and Barnegat softball squads both had their seasons ended in the first round of their respective state sectional tournaments on May 18.

The 15th-seeded Rams (6-13) took a 2-1 lead over second-seeded Kingsway after scoring twice in the top of the fourth inning of the South Jersey Group IV tourney, but the Dragons (24-4) regained the lead with three runs in the bottom of the fourth and cruised from there, as pitcher Grace Fagan gave up four hits and fanned 14. Tatiyana Ford was 2-for-3 for Southern, while Christina D’Amodio and Hanna Van Waalwijk had the Rams’ other hits.

Meanwhile, in Barnegat, the eighth-seeded Bengals (6-15) suffered a 16-5 loss to ninth-seeded and Shore Conference Class B South rival Point Pleasant Borough, which beat Barnegat in their two regular-season contests as well.

— David Biggy

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