Eagles repeat as CJ III sectional champions

first_img Middletown High School South’s girls softball team will have to refocus its goals on repeating as NJSIAA Group IV champion after its bid to reach the Shore Conference Tournament finals was derailed by Red Bank Catholic, 9-1, on Saturday at Wall Township High School. But to get back to the finals, Middletown South needed a victory on Tuesday this week (June 2) against South Jersey champion Delsea Regional High School, a team it beat last season, 9-0, in the state tournament. “Right now we’re in a little slump,” coach Tom Erbig said of his team’s hitting. St. John Vianney High School sealed the other Shore Conference Tournament finalist spot, its first since 2007, with a 3- 1 victory over Toms River East as Taylor August drove in all three runs with two hits.T he Lady Lancers played Notre Dame on Tuesday (June 1) in the NJSIAA Non- Public South A finals at Northern Burlington High School in what will be the program’s first appearance in a sectional final under sixth-year coach Kim Lombardi. Amanda Durham hit a threerun triple to put the finishing touches on a seven-run surge in the first inning that sent the top-seeded Lancers to a 7-2 victory against Red Bank Catholic last Thursday, May 27, in the state semifinals. Middletown South two weeks ago lost to Red Bank Catholic, 5-2, in a regular season game after losing in the Monmouth County Tournament championship game, 3-1, to St. John Vianney. It was ranked No. 1 in the state before those games. This time, Red Bank Catholic reeled off four runs in the sixth inning off Allison Nolan. Jackie Bates drove in Middletown South’s run with a fielder’s choice in the first inning. Erbig, who recently became the third high school softball coach in state history to win 600 games in his 28 seasons, warned before the Shore Conference Tournament semifinal game that his team needed to play a “perfect game” against a Red Bank Catholic team that is solid offensively throughout the batting order. “We didn’t play flawless defense,” Erbig said afterward. “That’s what we had to do to beat them. There were balls playable for the outfielders that did not get caught. We gave up a bunch of runs, and then we got real flat and did not have a couple of good at-bats. They [Red Bank Catholic] hit the ball when they needed to hit, and we didn’t hit in pressure situations.” Erbig is wary of Delsea despite its seven losses, and that game could end the season for the seniors as well as for juniors Julia Kuhn, a pitcher and shortstop, and center fielder Jackie Bates, who have sparked the offense with six home runs each. Kuhn is batting .600. Both have made early verbal commitments to NCAA Division I colleges — Kuhn for Northwestern and Bates for Rutgers. They’ll officially sign next spring. Kuhn has been recruited by many major Division I colleges, including Florida, Florida State and Stanford. “I’m still finding out about Delsea, but I know they can be hit,” Erbig said at press time. His team in three prior state tournament games has a 17-2 scoring edge on its opponents. “We have a young team, and now we’ll see if we could rebound.” Middletown South is seeking its fourth state title, the others coming in 1995 and 2002 before last year. Before getting to a state final, Middletown South did one of the most difficult things in high school sports: beating the same opponent three times in the same season. Middletown South had beaten Wall in previous games, 8-0 and 2-1, and had to get by the Crimson Knights a third time if it was to repeat as sectional state champions. In the Central Jersey Group III final, played Thursday (May 27) in Middletown, the Eagles defended their CJ title with a 3-2 victory over Wall. Erbig credited the maturing of his younger starters, who no longer are rookies at this late stage of the season, in helping the team win the sectional crown. Those younger starters included sophomore Erika Falvey, who lashed a two-run single against Wall. Sophomore right fielder Taylor Landis is the lone exception, breaking into the lineup eight games ago, entering Tuesday’s state semifinal game. Kuhn has shared in the pitching during the regular season but has remained at shortstop, and Nolan is the regular pitcher throughout the postseason in order to keep the Eagles at their strongest defensively. Erbig could not say for sure that he would stick to that idea. “I’m not sure. Maybe we need more of a competitor on the mound.” Along with Kuhn and Bates, Erbig said that third baseman Ali Muratore “has had a couple of big hits and put us in a good situation [to win].” Jill Troiano and Amanda Galanti also have chipped in timely hits. Galanti has played through minor but nagging injuries that led to a designated hitter for her against Red Bank Catholic, but Erbig said she would be ready to play defense and hit this week. Should the Eagles advance against Delsea, they will play in the state final in Toms River on Saturday. BY WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent last_img

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