EDISON, N.J. – Phew.
In a wild 11-inning hard-fought battle, the South Brunswick Lady Vikings softball team bested the Lady Tigers of South Plainfield 6-4 in the 2016 Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament finals at Middlesex County College in Edison Wednesday night.
After a game that featured four ties and five lead changes, Vikings head coach Heather Wells, drenched in iced-cold water, gave her thoughts on the school’s historic victory - their first ever conference tournament crown - in their only appearance.
“Unbelievable,” she said. “These kids just battled all day. There was no let up. (Starting pitcher) Nicole (Majewski) was lights out [and] every single kid contributed.
“I knew this team was special on the first day. I knew that they came and they played for each other. They played for each other all year long and (tournament MVP) Nicole Majewski is a perfect example of a team player. She has been a team leader all year long and she deserves this today.”
Majewski dazzled from inside the pitching circle, hurling 11 innings giving up seven hits, four runs, and striking out six for the win. In addition, the senior went 2-for-4 from the plate with essentially the game-winning RBI-double in the top of the 11th to go up 5-4 that broke a 4-4 tie. Majewski would later score moments later on a Julie Kurkela RBI-single to extend the lead to 6-4.
The GMC-White champs South Plainfield didn’t go down quietly however, as the Tigers clawed their way back to load the bases with no outs in the bottom of the 11th, but Majewski got first baseman Naomi Nieves to strikeout, designated player Nicole Gerardi to foul out, and second baseman Makayla Sosa to strikeout to end the game with three ducks left on the pond.
South Plainfield actually held a 2-1 lead heading into the top of the seventh and what normally would be the last inning, but the Vikings mustered across a run to tie the score at 2-2. Kate Mastro was 0-4, but her RBI-groundout that scored Emily Collins gave life to South Brunswick and helped propel them into extra innings after South Plainfield couldn’t bring home Jennifer Grasso after she smoked a leadoff single to center.
South Brunswick seemed to carry that momentum into extra innings.
“I said, ‘Who wants it more right now? Who wants it more right now? This is our first time we’ve been here. Let’s win. It’s our turn’,” said Wells when asked how she got her team motivated heading into extras.
The Tigers had what would have been the winning run touch home in the bottom of the ninth inning, but Gerardi, who just moments earlier knotted the score at 3-3 with a clutch RBI-double after Haley Grossi’s RBI double gave the Vikings a 3-2 lead in the top of the inning, was called out at the plate even though she appeared safe. South Plainfield head coach Don Panzarella argued the call to avail, as the game continued.
The legendary coach with 706 wins to his name was visibly upset in the moment and post-game.
“The play at the plate affected the game today,” Panzarella said. “It hurts. This is the championship. It isn’t just the first round. Then you have to come back (and continue playing) and (the game) keeps going and going. It’s a sad way to end. (South Brunswick) out hit us at the end (though).”
South Brunswick took the lead at 4-3 in the 10th on a sacrifice fly by Mastro, but the Tigers once again battled back and plated a run in the home half of the inning as Sosa scored after Holoboski reached first on an error by the Vikings.
“They fight all year, that’s the big thing. They don’t quit,” Panzarella said of his team’s ability to bounce back after being down multiple times.
But no matter how you look at the game, Panzarella can’t move past the critical call that could have ended the game in the ninth.
“You take that home plate score, and you take it into Friday, they’ll be pumped. It’s not that we played great, we made a lot of mistakes, but (we) know we had the game won and that’s hard. …They out-played us, but I think we won the game. It’s little different taking (a win) into Friday than taking this (a loss) into Friday.”
South Plainfield doesn’t have much time to hang their heads as the Tigers have to bounce back and get ready for a quick turnaround game on Friday. South Plainfield goes to war with the Middletown South Eagles Friday afternoon at 1p.m. in Middletown in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group III finals.
“This one is going to be tough for me,” Panzarella said. “It’s going to be hard for me to live with that one, but, tomorrow is another day, we’ll practice, we’re going to come back and do the best we can on Friday. …We’ve had a great season so far. We’re not done. It’s going to be hard (because their tired) but they’re resilient. I think they’ll bounce back.”
Holoboski, Grasso, and Camryn Schaeffer all had good days at the plate for the Tigers. Grasso and Schaeffer each finished 2-for-4 while the freshman Holoboski didn’t let the bright lights affect her play as she finished with a team-high three hits. Schaeffer managed two great walks in extra innings to put herself on base.
Junior Katherine Vill took the loss for the Tigers, gutting out 11 innings after pitching seven yesterday, giving up eight hits, five walks (three intentional to Carly Rybinski) six runs (four earned) while striking out four.