Eagles repeat as Group III softball state champions

first_img When Middletown South won the NJSIAA Group III state championship last year, coach Tom Erbig brought along some of the team’s younger players to watch and learn for this season. Middletown South’s Jackie Bates is safe as she slides into third base during the NJSIAA State Group III championship game against Nutley on June 5. The Eagles soared to their second straight state championship with a 5-2 victory at Toms River North. Eagles repeat as Group III softball state champions ERIC SUCAR staff It turned out to be a worthwhile move for two of those players had timely hits on Saturday (June 5), when Middletown South won its second straight state title, 5-2, over Nutley. Facing a 2-0 deficit in the sixth inning, shortstop Jill Troiano ripped a bases-clearing triple to the center-field fence and rode home on first baseman Erica Falvey’s deep fly to center field. Both are sophomores. Senior second baseman Sam Penk smashed a run-scoring single in the last inning as the Eagles finished 30-3. Middletown South’s Julia Kuhn (r), the winning pitcher, celebrates with sister Liza Kuhn (l) after the Eagles won the NJSIAA State Group III championship on June 5. The Eagles won their second straight state title with a 5-2 win over Nutley at Toms River North High School. ERIC SUCAR staff “I learned you have to keep fighting for your wins and never give up,” said Falvey. “I took the lessons I learned from there and applied it here for the whole team,” said Troiano. “We lost so many girls from last year [top graduation] so we had to prove ourselves. Senior catcher Amanda Galanti led off the fifth inning with a walk, Kuhn grounded a single through shortstop and junior center fielder Jackie Bates blooped a single to right field to set the scene for Troiano. “The coach said hitting is contagious and with the first three batters getting on base, it was my turn to get the job done,” said Troiano. “I believe in myself and my team is there to support me.” Troiano, who has played three different positions, went back to shortstop where she plays most often when Julia Kuhn gets the pitching start. Junior Allison Nolan has been pitching much of the season, but Kuhn, who has made an early verbal commitment to Northwestern, went to the mound to get her 14th victory. Kuhn allowed four hits, but one was a triple by Kristen Mattia in the fourth inning that bounded past right fielder Dana Shea and she scored on a sacrifice fly. Tara Petrucelli got all of a Kuhn high fastball that she blasted over the center-field fence in the fifth inning for a 2-0 lead, only the fourth home run hit against the Eagles this season. Kuhn, relying on a drop curve and screwball, ended the inning with one of her three strikeouts. She did not walk a batter and only twice got the count to three balls. “It was a deep down gut feeling,” said coach Tom Erbig of his choice to start Kuhn. “Julia was ready to do this and she really wanted the ball. She’s just such a true competitor. You know she was going to give you everything she had. Even though Nolan didn’t pitch, it was a huge learning experience for her and she will be ready to pitch next year.” “My team just played well behind me and picked me up after the home run,” said Kuhn. But catcher Amanda Galanti, one of the two seniors in the starting lineup with second baseman Sam Penk, felt it (the home run) was a gut check for Kuhn, whose fierce competitiveness got her the start ahead of junior Allison Nolan, who has won 16 games and pitched strongly throughout the season. “It takes a strong person to come back after a girl hits a home run off you. She came back and shut them down. A lot of girls can’t do that,” said Galanti. The victory took the frustration of trips to two other championship finals for the Eagles that fell short — to St. John Vianney in the Monmouth County championship and to Red Bank Catholic in the Shore Conference Tournament finals. “It absolutely wipes them out,” emphatically stated Bates, who had three of the Eagles’ nine hits and who has made an early verbal commitment to Rutgers. Kuhn said she was happy for the Eagle seniors. “We were disappointed that we lost [those games] but happy we could end our season with a win and to do it for our seniors,” she said Penk, a senior, agreed. “There’s definitely no way to go out better than this,” said Penk. But it was not without some drama, typical of the two comeback victories over Howell during the season and a 10-2 victory over Delsea likewise broken open in the late innings in the state semifinals on June 1. Nutley pitcher Kayla Heezer allowed only three hits over the first four innings and got Middletown South to hit the ball hard at fielders. Nutley’s outfielders retired 10 batters on fly balls. “I was concerned they were a Cinderella team coming in, and these kids are playing as well as they could play and we had to play our game and maybe a little better,” said Erbig. “We did the same thing against Delsea. We got hits when we needed it. We hit the ball a little more up the middle — hard ground balls and line drives and not the high fly ball.” Penk drove in the insurance run in the last inning with a single after left fielder Taylor Landis led off with her second base hit and stole second. Landis became a starter at midseason when Alex Jacinto was injured. Erbig said the pressure is on his team to get back to the championship games next season. “I know I have two more years and we have so much potential,” said Falvey. But the seniors gave the young players their vote of confidence. “With Jude [Julia Kuhn] and Jackie, leading the way, they’ll keep it going,” said Penk. “I don’t think I’d want to leave the program with anyone other than these little kids,” said Galanti. They certainly have shown signs of growing up this season. BY WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent Defeat Nutley in final last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *