Holmdel, N.J. - Control for the top spot in the Shore Conference B-North Division was up for grabs on Tuesday afternoon between St. John Vianney and Middletown North.
A battle of two good clubs with two of the best pitchers in the conference in the circle, lived up to the hype with just one at-bat deciding the outcome that saw the Lancers come away with a 2-1 victory.
That one at-bat came with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning when St. John Vianney second baseman Alexis Agrapides smacked a base hit to right field that turned from a single to the senior coming all the way around to cross home plate.
The ball got passed the Middletown North right fielder, allowing Agrapides to go to second where the senior decided to push her luck to try and take third. It worked out for Agrapides who reached third on the Middletown North throwing error that went out of play, giving her the honor of trouting home for what turned out to be the game-winning run to help St. John Vianney improve to 9-0 on the season.
“I was just looking to get on base and put a good swing on the ball,” Agrapides said. “As soon as I saw her bubble it, I was going two and knew I had the speed when I looked up to get to third. That was my goal. As soon as I slid down, I saw the ball go away and knew it was my chance to score. I got the opportunity to come up in a big situation and happy I was able to execute.”
St. John Vianney starter Julia Parker and Middletown North ace Malori Bell went toe for toe in a great pitchers duel.
Parker was nothing but perfect through three innings, racking up five strikeouts in the process.
The junior ace even helped herself out at the dish, earning an RBI fielder’s choice on a hard shot to shortstop that Gabby Polera was able to beat the throw home on from third base to help give St. John Vianney a 1-0 lead in the second inning.
“Situational hitting,” Parker said. “I knew this was going to be low scoring game. Had to put the bat on the ball and get (Polera) in from third.”
The only real blip of the day for Parker came to leadoff the fourth inning with none other than Bell doing the honors.
Bell launched a long home run over the left field fence to tie the game at 1-1.
Parker rebounded with a pair of strikeouts to end the inning. The junior went on to only give up one hit the rest of the way to secure her ninth win of the season, finishing with a game-high 10 strikeouts in a complete-game performance.
Parker has only given up one run in her last seven appearances.
“I trust my defense with the pitches I throw,” Parker said. “I know that we have a strong defense behind me and that they’re going to make those plays. I like striking batters out, but I know if they put the ball in play, my defense will be there.”
Bell kept Middletown North in the contest with six brilliant innings in the circle.
After hitting her solo shot, Bell came up big again for Middletown North in the bottom half of the fourth inning with getting a huge strikeout to get out of a bases loaded jam to keep the game tied.
Bell racked up nine strikeouts, giving her 98 strikeouts for the season. The two runs (one earned) given up was lowest amount of runs scored in game by St. John Vianney this season. Bell has only given up three earned runs this spring.
Unfortunately for Bell and the Lions, just one breakdown in the field in the fifth inning led to them dropping to 7-2 on the season.
Agrapides and Polera each went two-for-three at the dish for St. John Vianney with a run scored.
It’s the sixth year in a row that St. John Vianney has gone 9-0 or better to start the season.
“We had some timely hits, which were important, and put the ball in play,” said St. John Vianney softball coach Kim. “Winning this game was great for our confidence. It was a close game. Either one of us could have come out on top. Most of the team battled really well.”
The Lancers will host Colts Neck on Thursday.
Middletown North will try to snap its two-game losing streak on Wednesday when they host Wall.
The Lions went through a similar streak last season and were able to rebound and roll to winning the NJSIAA North 2, Group 3 championship.
Middletown North softball coach Chris Hoffman believes the same thing can happen this year for his club.
“After our first two games last year, we came back to win the sectional championship,” Hoffman said. “I believe we can do that again.”
Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports