COLTS NECK, N.J. - The situation was perfect for the No. 7 seed Colts Neck High School softball team. Leading No. 10 Moorestown 3-2 going into the seventh inning of Monday’s opening round game of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 Tournament, Colts Neck had a shot to close the deal and advance to the quarterfinals. What happened in the top of the seventh inning was not what Colts Neck hoped for. Moorestown struck for seven runs, which ultimately led to the Quakers ending Colts Neck’s run in the state tournament with a 9-6 victory.

“We shot ourselves in the foot in the seventh inning,” said Colts Neck softball coach John Corrado. “We needed three outs, but couldn’t get them.”

Through the first four and half innings of play, nothing was going the Cougars’ way. Moorestown was able to jump out to an early lead thanks to leadoff hitter Erika Heffernen. Hefferen scored the game’s first run on a wild pitch in the first inning and then extended Moorestown’s lead to 2-0 in the top of the fifth with a bloop shot that fell in for an RBI single.

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Down two entering the bottom half of the fifth, the bats started to come alive for the Cougars.

After Felicia Kuegler ripped a double into the gap in left center, Colts Neck had runners on second and third with one out. Kaitlyn Pierce got the Cougars on the board by smacking a single to center to plate Kuegler and tie the game at 2-2.

“I knew we had shot to tie the game and I was looking for pitch to hit to get the game tied up for the team,” Sardoff said.

A steal by Sardoff to get into scoring position helped set up Ava Metzger for an RBI single in the next at-bat, giving Colts Neck its first lead of the day.

Metzger kept the 3-2 lead in place for Colts Neck in the sixth inning, using a houdini act to get herself out of a bases loaded no out jam.

Missing out an opportunity to add to its lead in the bottom half of the frame by leaving the bases loaded, the Cougars only had a one-run lead to protect in the seventh and, unfortunately, Colts Neck and Metzger couldn’t keep the lead safe.

A double by Heffernen leading off the inning, put the tying run in scoring position for Moorestown. An infield single by Elena Illadis moved Heffernen to third and in the next at-bat, the Quakers’ center fielder recorded her second run scored in the contest, scoring on a pass ball to tie the game at 3-3.

Another ball that got past Colt Neck’s catcher Erica Cunningham, two at-bats later, allowed Illadis to score to give Moorestown back the lead and so began the seven-run rally by the Quakers.

An RBI single by Asha Bezwada gave Moorestown a 5-3 lead. Bezwada later scored on a throwing error by Cunningham when trying to throw out Jami Fiore at first on a bunt to make it a three-run lead for Moorestown.

Fielding troubles hurt Colts Neck again in the at-bat with another error allowing two runs to score for Moorestown to make it a 8-3 game.

“We had a lot of unforced errors in that last inning,” Sardoff said. “That allowed them to score a couple more runs than they should of.”

Heffernen ended her great day on the diamond for Moorestown with an RBI double to put the Quakers up 9-3 going into the bottom of the seventh. She accounted for four of the Quakers’ nine runs in the game with two runs score and two RBIs.

“I just went out there and played my game,” Heffernen said. “I’m happy that my leadoff double in the seventh inning helped the team get a rally going. Feels great to contribute to the team’s win.”

Down six runs, the Cougars didn’t go away quietly. A leadoff double by Metzger led to Briana Clementi knocking her home on an RBI single to cut the Moorestown lead to 9-4.

Metzger had a team-high three hits, an RBI, a run scored and four strikeouts in her complete game performance on the mound for Colts Neck.

Mya Mancini continued the Colts Neck rally with an RBI double to cut it to four-run deficit. Mancini later scored on an RBI single by Catherine Grillo to make it a 9-6 game.

That was as close, though, as Colts Neck could get to Moorestown as Kuegler flied out to right field to end the game, allowing the Quakers to advance to the quarterfinals.

“We didn’t give up and made great effort to get back in the game at the end,” Corrado said. “Our team has shown this year that we can come back from some big deficits. Unfortunately we couldn’t come back in this one.”

With the loss, Colts Neck drops to 13-10 on the season. The Cougars’ season is not over as they have earned a spot the Shore Conference Tournament, which they will begin on Tuesday against Monmouth Regional at home.

Corrado believes his team can make a nice run in the tournament.

“If we can play strong and shake off the mistakes we made against Moorestown, I think our team can win some games in the Shore Conference Tournament,” Corrado said.

Follow TAPinto Holmdel & Colts Neck on Twitter @holmdelcntap

Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports.