MIDDLETOWN, N. J. – Malori Bell was perfect and she didn’t even know it.
Bell, a senior starting pitcher on the Middletown North High School (N.J.) softball team, was dominant and unhittable Thursday afternoon. Bell was so tough to hit that Matawan at times struggled to get the bat on the ball just to foul it off.
But it wasn’t until the final out was made that Bell found out she had pitched the first perfect game of her career.
Facing the minimum 21 batters, Bell struck out 14 in seven sparkling innings of work as the Lions beat Matawan 3-0.
It was the righty’s second no-hitter to start the season after the senior blanked Neptune in six innings on opening day.
“I really didn’t know it was a perfect game until every one was saying it,” Bell said. “It feels pretty great. I’m happy. Our team played well today, and I’m really happy we could come out and play a good Matawan team.”
Middletown North (2-0) made a couple slick defensive plays in the top of the seventh inning to preserve Bell’s perfect game. With two outs left in the game, Matawan’s Mikie DeGeorge popped a ball up to the left side of the infield into no man’s land. Middletown North shortstop Mia Botti had to range far into left field to make the catch. (
With one out separating Bell and perfection, Kaitlynn Knauer laced a line drive into right field. The ball was well struck and had the potential to find grass, but Middletown North right fielder Ava Turner raced back to snag the ball.
All the while, Bell was calm and cool. Partially because her natural demeanor in big spots is even-tempered but also because she did not know a perfect game hung in the balance as the ball perilously flew through the air.
“I don’t like being told those kind of things because then I get in my head,” Bell said. “No one told me until the last out when Ava caught that ball in right field.”
The Lions faced a dominant pitcher in sophomore right-hander Alissa Eimont, who finished with a 0.91 ERA as a freshman last spring. It was a match up of some of the best pitchers the state has to offer, and Bell came out on top.
“What I’ve learned about Malori is the better the opposing pitcher is, she gets more fired up and more in the moment,” Middletown North coach Chris Hoffman said. “She knew how good Eimont was today. She wanted to match her.”