After rallying once in the bottom of the seventh inning to tie the game, the East Brunswick High School softball team looked to have another rally in them in the bottom of the 10th inning as they trailed Steinert by three runs in the NJSIAA Central Group IV semifinals on Thursday.
The second-seeded Bears, however, fell just short as Steinert pitcher Jess Giordano got a strikeout on a 2-2 pitch with the bases loaded and the tying run on third base as the third-seeded Spartans came away with a chaotic 5-4 victory in 10 innings.
Steinert will take on top-seeded Hillsborough in today’s sectional final.
“How many softball games was that? That was like three different softball games with all the different swings it took,” East Brunswick coach Kevin Brady quipped following his team’s crushing loss.
With the score tied 2-2, Steinert (19-5) scored three runs in the top of the 10th inning as the international tiebreaker rule came into effect, in which a runner starts the inning on second base.
A pair of walks with one out loaded the bases for the Spartans and cleanup hitter Courtney Whittaker, who went 4-for-4, hit a hard RBI single past shortstop into left field to bring the first run in.
After a foul pop for the second out, another RBI single and a bases loaded walk brought two more runs in as East Brunswick (22-5), the defending sectional champ, found itself down 5-2 heading to the home 10th.
The Bears showed the same fight they showed in the bottom of the seventh inning, when Meagan Costello drew a four-pitch, bases-loaded two-out walk to bring home the tying run to deadlock it at 2-2.
With Gabrielle Kelliher on second base to start the 10th inning, Shelby Lipson walked and Lauren Assennata (3-for-5) singled to right, loading the bases with no outs.
Giordano induced an infield fly to the right side for the first out and Megan Kelliher hit a sac fly to center to drive in her sister, Gabrielle, making the score 5-3.
Tori Zaccaria (2-for-5) singled to again load the bases and Sam Smalley followed, hitting a ball to the second baseman that was booted for an error and allowed the inning to continue, as a run scored on the play and brought the tying run 60 feet closer on third base.
That’s when Giordano buckled down and got leadoff hitter Lauren Cram, primarily a slapper, to swing and miss at strike three, ending the game.
“We came back alive in that last inning, we had runners on – we fell one hit short in a couple of spots, but so did (Steinert) in different innings,” Brady said. “That’s the story of softball. You have these games and you hope to have a chance to have a swing that makes a difference.”
East Brunswick twice had the bases loaded with two outs — in the seventh and ninth innings — and a chance to win the game, and both times had their best hitter, Gabrielle Kelliher, up, but both times Giordano won the battle as she fouled out to the catcher in the seventh and grounded out to third to end the ninth.
“Sometimes you can’t choose when you hit the rocket line drive,” Brady said. “The one thing that’s made us really strong all year long is having a lineup that one through nine can strike in different spots.”
The Bears went ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the first when Gabrielle Kelliher, who doubled to reach base, was driven in by Assennata’s RBI single with two outs.
Steinert scored runs in the top of the third and fifth, which put them ahead 2-1 at the time before the Bears rallied in the seventh inning to tie the game after going down in order in both the fifth and sixth.
“Credit to (Steinert), they’re an excellent team and it was a great softball game, and I’m proud,” Brady said. “Like I said to the kids at the end of the game, ‘This is tough for every team in New Jersey, this is a very tough moment.’ But I have so much pride and joy for having the chance to coach them because they’ve been a great group.”
Non-Public South A
Notre Dame 5, Bishop Ahr 3: Eighth-seeded Notre Dame (16-7) took advantage of three walks and two errors in the second inning to score four runs, before adding a run in the fourth to take a 5-0 lead.
Top-seeded Bishop Ahr (16-6) cut its deficit to 5-3 in the bottom of the fifth as Gaby Elvina hit a two-run double and Megan Ryan followed with an RBI single, as the Trojans left runners on the corners in both the fifth and seventh innings.
Elvina went 3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBI while Ryan had two hits.