RED BANK -- South Plainfield resident Julia Parker guided top-seeded St. John Vianney softball to its ninth consecutive Monmouth County Tournament championship with a 5-2 victory over second-seeded Middletown North on Saturday at Count Basie Park in Red Bank.
The sophomore pitcher earned the win striking out six. She conceded just two runs (one earned) and no walks and after allowing a leadoff single in the second inning, Parker retired the next 16 batters she faced and 18 of the last 19.
“I knew I had a strong defense behind me and I just needed to pitch well and trust my pitches,” Parker said. “I just hit my spots and had a good rise ball and inside curve ball. Everything was working.”
As a freshman last season, Parker gained experience pitching in the MCT final as well as in the Shore Conference final. She earned the win in this very game tossing 1 ⅔ innings of relief.
“She’s a big game pitcher,” Lancers head coach Kim Lombardi said.
St. John Vianney (20-0), No. 2 in the NJ.com Top 20, found its way on to the scoreboard early in the top of the first inning scoring two runs. Parker hit an RBI-single to score Lindsey Baron, who led-off the game with a double, and Alexis Agrapides allowed Hayley Ahr to score on a sacrifice fly to left field.
“We wanted to come out and be aggressive, play good defense, and score on them first. We took the lead in the first inning and that gave us confidence,” Lombardi said.
No. 6 Middletown North (19-4) came back however and mustered a run in the home half of the frame as Milena Wilton scored on a single to right by Adriana Cerbo. Wilton was hit by a pitch to start the inning and advanced to third after Cara McNulty struck out but the ball got past the catcher, Ally Jones. Jones’ errant throw to first base allowed Wilton to go to third.
The Lancers hadn’t given up a run in five games before the Lions scored.
St. John Vianney didn’t have to buy any insurance runs with the way Parker was dealing from the circle, but it got them for free anyway. The Lancers scored three times in the top of the fourth inning to go up 5-1 at the time.
Agrapides started the inning with a bunt single and moved to second on a sacrifice. Ally Jones then blasted a two-run home run over the left centerfield fence. Gillian Zack would also score in the inning.
“Ally’s hit was a huge. She got out in her first at-bat and she was determined. She really gave us the cushion that we needed,” Lombardi said.
“(Middletown North pitcher Malori Bell) got me so good the first time, I’m not even going to lie,” Jones said. “She’s a phenomenal pitcher and hats off to her. But, in my second at-bat I just wanted to relax and when I hit the ball I just trusted in the lord and that’s exactly what happened.”
The Lions got one more run in the bottom of the seventh on a solo homer by Bell, but it wasn’t enough.
“They played two innings of better softball than us today,” Middletown North coach Chris Hoffman said. “They fouled a ton of balls off. Malori’s a strikeout pitcher and it was tough to get that strikeout pitch for her. They got bunts and home runs when they needed to and (Parker) threw great.”