The Middletown high school softball community gathered at High School North on Saturday for the inaugural Rick Unterstein Invitational, a six-game event featuring some of the top programs in the Shore Conference competing in honor of the late Middletown educator and softball coach, who unexpectedly passed in 2019.

Prior to the Lions 12-0 victory over Red Bank Regional, the Middletown programs gathered near the High School North dugout for a pre-game ceremony, which included the unveiling of a new paint job celebrating the legacy of Unterstein. In black text on a white background was the wording, “It’s All About the U,” followed by the commemorative statement, “In loving memory of Rick Unterstein.”

Lions coach Chris Hoffman, who began his tenure at High School North as a co-teacher with Unterstein, discussed the bond the two developed and the most important lesson he learned during their time together.

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“We used to go to MJ’s every Friday when there wasn’t sports going on. We’d have bite to eat and a drink, and I’d ask him to stick around for another. And he’d say he couldn’t, ‘I have to get home to my wife.’ He taught me about how important family truly is. He made me a better husband and father,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said that sentiment extends to his softball program, as the players and coaches view the team as “their second family, and their second home.”

“We intend to honor that. Every time we walk to the dugout here, from now on, no player, as long as I’m the coach will step foot in that dugout until they touch that U,” Hoffman added.

Lions junior Mallory Shevlin said High School North’s victory over the Bucs was dedicated to Unterstein and his family, including his daughters Allison and Erin, who were on hand to toss out the first pitch.

“Today is a combination of all things our father believed to be important; scholastic softball, sportsmanship, hard work, and most of all fun,” Unterstein’s daughter Allison said. “Today’s events are no better way to honor our father’s memory. We can’t thank everyone here today enough for showing his three grandchildren just how special a person their grandfather was.”

Shevlin struck out 10 in a two-hit shutout. The junior also added three hits, scored twice and drove in two more runs. Ava Turner led the Lions with three runs scored as part of three-hit day. Grace Gomez had two hits, two runs scored and two RBI in the win. Mariah Arroyo also drove in two runs.

“I’ve grown up playing with so many different girls on so many different teams around New Jersey, and to see so many of them come back here today to honor Mr. Unterstein is very special. This community has a way of coming together in a time of need, and this is a really beautiful example” said Shevlin of the participating programs, which included Middletown South, Toms River North, Freehold Township, Ocean Township, Manalapan, Holmdel, Marlboro, Matawan, Red Bank Catholic and Howell.

Middletown South fell by a score of 6-2 in a matchup with Matawan, the No. 5 ranked team in the state of New Jersey. Renee Lioudakis knocked in one of the Eagles runs with a triple. Hope Mullane scored a run following her fifth inning double.

“Rick touched the lives of many. He was patient. He was kind. And I remember him often. We carry him with us, and we know that there is truly an angel in our outfield.”