Falcons fall in softball showdown

Loss to Jays hurts title hopes

By: Carolyn M. Hartko
   Maybe it was the 21-1, five-inning blowout at New Brunswick the day before, but something had the Monroe Township High School girls varsity softball team a little too relaxed for Wednesday’s tough contest with Middlesex.
   The Lady Falcons needed a victory if they hoped to stay within striking distance of a Greater Middlesex Conference Blue Division title this spring. But the intensity was all on the side of the Lady Blue Jays as Middlesex beat Monroe, 8-4.
   That leaves the Jays (10-0 overall) undefeated in the division and in sole possession of first place, while Monroe (8-6 overall) has two losses, both to Middlesex. The Falcons will need an unlikely collapse by Middlesex to have any shot at grabbing a share of the crown.
   Middlesex took an early 1-0 lead, and was up 3-0 by the end of the second inning. They added another in the fourth, before Monroe finally snuck one in. Danielle Payne reached first on an error, then moved to second on a dropped ball. Next up was Danielle Cocuzzaj, whose outfield single drove in Payne. But even that couldn’t fire up the Falcons on defense. By the time Middlesex was done at bat in the fifth inning, they had increased their lead to 6-1.
   With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Laura Gibbons started a rally with a bunt single. Katie Lederman walked, putting runners on first and second. Next up was senior first baseman Vicki Blevins. She blasted the ball over the fence for her second home run of the season, and put her team back in the game at 6-4. Unfortunately, that was the last successful offensive burst from the Falcons.
   Blevins and Blue Jay pitcher Sara Neely are not strangers to each other. Both girls have been Blue Division antagonists for the past three years.
   "I know how she pitches, and she knows how I hit," Blevins said. "So, we were both like ‘What are you going to do next?’ I know what she’s going to throw me, and she knows what I want to hit, and what I can hit, and she’ll try to stay away.
   "That one pitch (the homer), I just lucked out. I did not even think she would ever throw it down the middle to me, but I got lucky. I was waiting for a change-up the whole time. But she’s a smart pitcher."
   Neely and Blevins had one more dual left in the game. Blevins came up again in the bottom of the seventh with two outs. If stats were kept for the longest at bat, the Falcon senior would probably have the record after Wednesday. She put a few dents in the new left sideline fence, and sent several balls over. Finally, with a full count, Neely threw a low one, and Blevins got the walk. But the situation was not as tense as it could have been, with Neely and Blevins trading good natured barbs.
   "We actually know each other from the summer," Blevins said. "We made a video together for colleges. So we were goofing around a little. We figured we might as well have a little fun. That’s what it’s about."
   In spite of the fact that Monroe had trouble manufacturing runs, they did hit the ball better against Neely the second time around this season
   "We’ve started hitting the ball better," Falcon coach Jean Elias said. "We hit the ball well against South Brunswick (in an 8-1 loss last Friday), even though some of them were right at people. We had a lot of nice line drives. So, that’s coming around. Our defense, on the other hand, is getting a little shaky. But if we can put it all together towards the end of the season, I think we’ll be okay for the tournaments."
   Monroe did have six errors in Wednesday’s game, some of them costly. And several of the Middlesex runs were unearned. But with one out in the sixth, the Falcons turned a nice double play to shut down the Jays. Payne, playing shortstop, scooped up a grounder and fired the ball to Blevins at first. With the batter out, Blevins threw to Jackie Varacallo at third. The throw beat the runner who was trying to advance from second.
   "We have flashes like that, where we’ll make some nice plays, but then we have the throwing errors, or some mental mistakes mixed in between there. We have to get it all together."
   MHS hosts Cardinal McCarrick today (Friday), and West Windsor North Monday.