Sewell, N.J. - Malori Bell’s tremendous legacy in the circle continued to grow on Friday when the senior right-hander pitched another brilliant postseason gem in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Group 3 Tournament to help the Middletown North softball team make it to its first state final in 27 years.
Racking up 12 strikeouts to give her 387 punch outs on the season, Bell tossed a complete-game one-hit shutout to lead Middletown North past Delsea for a 1-0 victory and spot in the Group 3 championship game.
“We came in hungry to win after losing in the Group 3 semifinals last year,” Bell said. “We knew we wanted this game before we came in. I try to do as much as I can for my team. Being able to get the outs when we needed them is great.”
Coming off a 20 strikeout performance against Steinert in the Central Jersey sectional final, Bell kept the strikeouts rolling to begin the contest.
Bell fanned seven of the first nine batters she faced and had eight strikeouts in four no-hit innings of work to start the game.
After Delsea’s Kaylin Power broke Bell’s no-hit bid to leadoff the fifth inning with a single, Middletown North’s ace responded like any ace does, battling back and keeping the Crusaders off the board.
With moving to second on the sac-bunt in the next at-bat by Jenna Cetin, Bell struck out the next two Delsea batters to give her 10 strikeouts in the game and keep Middletown North up 1-0.
Bell had a 1-0 lead to work with from the get go with the Lions getting a run in the first inning off the bat of Ava Turner.
Runners on first and second with two outs, Turner rocketed a sharp line drive the opposite way to right field that scored Cara McNulty from second base to put Middletown North up 1-0.
“I knew that the pitcher’s ball was curving outside, so I went up there with the knowledge that I had to watch out for the outside of the plate,” Turner said. “I saw the first pitch and swung because I didn’t know if I was going to get that pitch again. I’ve worked really hard at the plate going into postseason to be able to get these types of hits.”
McNulty led Middletown North with a game-high two hits in the win. She has a team-high 55 hits now on the season and is batting .561 at the plate.
Delsea got another runner in scoring position after Bell walked Brooke Clark, who then stole second with two outs in the sixth inning.
Again, Bell erased the Delsea threat, striking out Delsea’s ace Diana Parker to get out of the jam.
Parker gave up a run on six hits with five strikeouts in a complete-game loss for Delsea.
Three outs away from sending her team to its first state final since 1992, Bell had ice in her veins and was confident as can be in the circle.
In a long winded at-bat against Delsea’s Alexis Harkins to begin the seventh inning, Bell won the battle by getting the Crusaders’ first baseman to pop up to first for the out.
Bell then got Powers to fly out to left field and with fire and confidence in her eyes, the senior picked her 12th strikeout to finish the game and send the Lions to the finals.
“I knew they were going to put up a fight in their last at-bat,” Bell said. “I had to buckle down and get the outs. Once we got those first two outs, we knew we had this in the bag.”
Ashley Kofsky was one-for-three at the plate for Middletown North as was teammate Jacey Tammaro, who also had a stolen a base in the win.
Middletown North improves to 26-6 on the season and will play Chatham in the Group 3 championship game on Sunday at Kean University.
A win away from making history by winning the program’s first state championship, Middletown North softball coach Chris Hoffman couldn’t be prouder of his team and is happy to be a part of the run of success the program has had the past two seasons.
“We want to be the first team to win the program’s first state championship,” Hoffman said. “These kids deserve it. This is a great group of kids. When you have 18 kids and 18 families on board, it’s kind of special. Everything we do, we do as a team. It’s fun to be apart of.”
Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports