Manville softballers advance in SCT

Ortman, Kohler lead way to shutout

By: Rudy Brandl
   Solid pitching and defense and timely hitting are the necessary ingredients to win tournament softball games. Manville High performed well in all these areas in posting a 7-0 victory over Gill St. Bernards in Saturday’s preliminary round of the Somerset County Tournament.
   Junior Amy Ortman fired a two-hitter for her second shutout of the season, the defense played flawlessly behind her and the offense did just enough to scratch out some runs. It wasn’t an offensive work of art, but the Lady Mustangs ran the bases aggressively to make the most of nine singles.
   "I really liked that the girls found a way to manufacture runs," Manville head coach Ed Knapp said after notching his first tournament win. "Their pitcher was cagey and we weren’t comfortable in there against her. But when we got on base, we took advantage."
   Sophomore Lauren Kohler, who handled the catching chores with regular starter Kristin Jones away at a dance competition, made the most of her opportunity in the leadoff position. The speedy Kohler reached base three times, scored twice and drove in a run with a fielder’s choice. She also stole three bases and made life miserable for Gill’s defense.
   "I just went whenever I had the opportunity," said Kohler, who singled, stole second and scored the game’s first run in the first inning. "The catcher had a weak throw to second and they were weak in the field so I just took my chances."
   "I need to get her on base," Knapp said. "She’s got incredible talent when she’s on the bases. That’s a natural position for her."
   Kohler remained at second base with two outs in the first inning but Ortman helped her cause with a clutch RBI hit to left-center field. Courtesy runner Alicia Weaver came home when Gill’s first baseman made an error on a ground ball by Jenna Breslow.
   That 2-0 lead turned out to be enough for Ortman, who worked around a one-out triple in the first and gave up just one more hit in the fourth. Ortman struck out five and walked three, letting her defense make the plays.
   "I had the team to back me up," Ortman said. "We didn’t make errors. That’s my big strong team."
   The MHS infield was sharp, handling every chance. Third baseman Stefanie Bocchino made a nice play to strand a runner at third to end the first inning and also helped cut down a runner attempting to steal home in the fourth.
   "I’m delighted with the defense," Knapp said. "They don’t have to make great plays, just the routine plays. They’ve done that now two games in a row and they’re starting to believe in themselves defensively. That confidence can be very powerful. It helps the pitcher, the catcher and the coach."
   Manville, which had at least two base runners in every inning except the third, padded its lead with single runs in the fourth and sixth innings and a three-run burst in the fifth.
   Bocchino reached on an error with two outs in the third and scored after Diana Weaver singled and moved around the bases on a throwing error. Bocchino singled and came home on Kohler’s fielder’s choice in the fifth.
   Kohler ignited the three-run fifth with a single to left field and two stolen bases. Lisa Lavenia’s infield out scored Kohler and left the bases empty with two outs. Ortman restarted the rally with a single and courtesy runner Alicia Weaver stole second. Breslow singled and stole second, but an errant throw allowed Weaver to score and Breslow to take third. Breslow then stole home, sliding under the tag in a cloud of dust.
   "We had some good hits and heads-up base running," said Ortman, who had no trouble working with a different catcher.
   "I was really looking for (Kohler) to play a strong game behind the plate and she gave that to us," Knapp said.
   After trading losses and wins in the first six games, the Lady Mustangs have started a winning streak. Manville entered the week with a three-game streak and hopes to continue playing well in Saturday’s county tournament game at sixth-ranked Somerville.
   "I think we’ll beat Somerville," Kohler said. "We’re getting stronger."
   "We’d like to do whatever we can to make this town feel proud of us," Knapp added. "That will be our next opportunity."