DENVILLE, NJ- For the second straight year, the Morris Knolls Golden Eagles softball team compiled and impressive record and stormed their way into the state sectional finals. While the 2015 team was heavy on senior talent and expected to get there, the 2016 squad was heavy on youth and had uncertain expectations with so many holes to fill.
However, after going 24-7 in 2015, Coach Keith Heinemann’s squad picked up right where they left off, rolling to an almost identical record of 23-8 this season. Unfortunately for the Lady Golden Eagles, both seasons ended in the same way, with a loss in the NJSIAA state sectional finals.
While last years’ loss was a closely fought 1-0 defeat, this years’ 13-3 loss to Livingston was a game that just got away from Knolls and snowballed downhill from there.
“Livingston puts a lot of pressure on you and we didn't handle it well,” said Knolls Coach Keith Heinemann. “You have to make your plays and we didn’t. Give them all the credit for executing, Coach Daly does a great job and they out played us.”
Facing the Lancers on their home field, the Lady Golden Eagles seemed out of sync for most of the game. After two scoreless innings, Livingston erupted in the third inning pushing 5 runs across the plate against starting pitcher Brooke Wirada.
Wirada, the ace of the Knolls staff, who had struck out 195 batters and compiled an ERA of under 1.5 on the season, had not given up 5 runs all season long. Wirada was hobbled when she was hit in the hand with a line drive, and ultimately, she could not continue.
Livingston added two more runs in that third inning to take an insurmountable 7-0 lead.
The Lancers ran the lead up to 10-0, before Knolls rallied a bit cutting it to 10-3. Livingston got those runs back in a 3 run top of the seventh for the final margin. Knolls’ play in the field was atypical as well, as they committed seven errors in the game, which did not help their pitchers cause.
After the game, Heinemann had encouraging words for his team on their successful campaign. “I just told them I was proud of them for everything the accomplished,” said Heinemann. “Not many teams can say they won 23 games, won a Conference Championship and played in the Sectional Championship.”
Looking ahead to next season, the future looks bright, as the Lady Golden Eagles will return all but two players on their roster, and will field a team heavy on experience and with a history of success.
“It's great that everyone returns from this season, but you don't carry over any wins or runs and nothing is guaranteed,” said Heinemann. “It takes a lot of things to go right to have success and we will have to work for everything we get. The good thing is the girls gained a lot of experience and we should be able to grow from it. I think the girls will be very motivated and hungry to improve upon their success.”
When asked about how he felt his teams’ performance was for the 2016 season, Heinemann concluded with, “I think Brooke had a great year for us and gave us a chance to win a lot of games. As a team we played great defense behind her. Offensively we didn't have a star but even better, we had great team effort. It seemed like a different person stepped up at different times throughout the season which is even better than just one or two girls carrying you.”