Two Big Careers Near Their Conclusion as Tournament Road Ends for Pinelands Regional Softball Team

May 30, 2018
Photo by: David Biggy Pinelands senior Jessie Rising fires to the plate during the Wildcats’ 6-1 win over Lacey in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III tournament on May 23.

When the Pinelands Regional High School softball team concludes its season Wednesday evening against Southern Regional, it marks the end of the road for two of the best players to come through the program.

“I’m not ready for it,” said Brianna Suralik, the defensive stalwart at second base and one of the Wildcats’ best clutch hitters during the past few seasons, after Pinelands bounced Lacey from the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III tournament with a 6-1 win on May 23. “It’s going to be hard going forward without softball. I’ve been playing the game since I was a little girl. I’ve played a lot of games and tournaments in the spring and summer, gone through a lot of practices and clinics. I’m definitely going to miss it.”

Despite the victory in the sectional quarterfinals, followed by a 6-5 win over Toms River South in the Shore Conference Tournament first round, the Wildcats’ schedule was whittled down to one game late last week, as they lost to Seneca, 8-2, in the SJ II semifinals on May 25 and dropped a 13-5 contest against Howell in the second round of the SCT the next day.

‘These past four years have been incredible, magical,” pitcher Jessie Rising said after scattering five hits and striking out 12 against Lacey. “I’ve experienced things with this team I never thought would happen, and it’s been a big part of making me who I am right now. I’ve faced adversity on and off the field, but what I’ve been through as a softball player definitely has built me as a person.”

The 12th-seeded Wildcats didn’t face much adversity against the Lions. They took a 1-0 lead when junior Ally Vezos delivered an RBI single after Suralik reached on an error and advanced to second base in the top of the first inning. Through the first four innings, Rising had fanned seven batters and allowed just two baserunners.

In the top of the fifth, Pinelands delivered a crushing blow to the fourth-seeded Lions, scoring four times to give Rising a commanding 5-0 lead. After Teresa Hudson swatted a one-out double to straightaway center field, Rising whacked a single and stole second before Suralik bashed a two-run single to make it a 3-0 contest. Two batters later, senior Madison Hawkins scored Suralik with a single and Hawkins scored when Adrianna Dancisin singled as well.

Lacey scored one and then loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth, but Rising fired a fantastic first pitch in on the hands of No. 3 batter Kailee Howard and Vezos made an easy, unassisted play at first on the grounder to end the threat. Rising faced only seven batters during the final two innings, while the Wildcats added a run in the seventh to cushion the lead. Rising, Suralik and Hawkins each finished 2-for-4.

Against Toms River South the next day, Pinelands broke open a scoreless tie with a five-run bottom of the third and held on from there. Rising struck out eight and went 3-for-3 at the plate to lead the way. Alyssa Rodriguez whacked a two-run double to help the offensive explosion in the third.

Unfortunately, that’s where the offensive explosions ended for Pinelands. In a rematch of last year’s sectional final, eighth-seeded Seneca erased a 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the first with a run, then scored twice in the second to take the lead for good. The Golden Eagles scored another run in the third and put the game out of reach with a four-run sixth. The Wildcats mustered just three hits off Seneca pitcher Emily Spencer – one each from Jordan Leeds, Rising and Suralik.

The next day in the SCT – the morning after Pinelands’ senior prom – fourth-seeded Howell dropped the hammer early, scoring four runs in each of the first two innings off Vezos, given the start in the circle, and never looked back. After the Wildcats trimmed the margin with three runs in the top of the fourth, the Rebels bounced right back with seven runs in the bottom of the inning to seal the victory.

With one game left to their careers, Rising and Suralik were one step closer to graduation in a few weeks and college in the fall – Suralik will play field hockey at Fairleigh Dickinson and Rising is headed to Manhattan College to continue her softball career.

“There have been a lot of great memories,” Suralik said. “It was amazing to make history last year. My freshman year was awesome because we had an amazing group of players to learn from, and then to step up last year and help lead us to a historical moment was more amazing. I’ve faced adversity and have grown through it all. It’s been an amazing ride.”

Rising – no doubt one of Pinelands’ best three-sport athletes in school history – said wearing a Pinelands uniform for four years “has been an honor.”

“Wearing Pinelands on my chest and having the opportunity to be one of the leaders on this team is something I’m very thankful for,” she said. “And for Coach Lowe and my teammates to have put so much trust in me is humbling. I’m going to miss the support at Pinelands. The community has always rallied around us, and so many people have been there for us. It’s been a special time in my life, for sure.”

— David Biggy

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