One-run loss ends states for MHS softball

Cougars end with share of conference title

By: Justin Feil
   MANASQUAN — For just a minute, it looked as though the Montgomery High softball team was going to pull out another magical win against Manasquan in Tuesday’s Central Jersey Group II semifinal. Then, in a poof, it was gone with a bases-loaded single that ended the fourth-seeded Cougars’ state tournament run with a 2-1 loss.
   "It’s a tough one," said MHS head coach Doug Ruhlman, whose squad ended its season 14-6 after a 2-1 loss to Delaware Valley in 11 innings on Wednesday. "You live by one run and sometimes you don’t. We didn’t put a lot of offense together and it’s tough to win like that."
   The Cougars were 6-5 in one-run games this season. They had survived a low offensive output and a second-and-third with one out in the seventh situation to top Allentown by one run in the CJ II quarterfinals, and theycame within one out of going extra innings against top-seeded Manasquan on Tuesday.
   Tied 1-1 going into the final inning, Manasquan opened the seventh with a triple, but Cougars’ pitcher Amanda Heller flipped to Megan Hover on the ensuing squeeze bunt to end one threat.
   "I thought we had a shot at getting out of it," Ruhlman said. "Getting that out is always a lift."
   MHS almost got out of the inning when the next hit went just out of the reach of Heller, who deflected the ball past shortstop Renee Totaro.
   "She’s so quick; she makes that play a lot," Ruhlman said of his freshman left-handed pitcher. "She hits that line drive off Amanda’s glove and maybe if she doesn’t, we get two. But their No. 1 and 4 hitters were tough."
   A walk loaded the bases before Heller induced one pop-up that was ruled batter interference for the second out. Kelly Oberto, the Manasquan clean-up hitter who also drove in their first run of the game in the third inning, then lined a two-strike pitch just inside the right-field line for the game-ending hit.
   "You can’t complain," Ruhlman said. "We’re right there. We just have to hit more. You can’t make them up, you can’t steal first base. She was moving the ball nice and she used some different speeds. We didn’t make adjustments. Our middle of the lineup didn’t come through. We had to produce some runs there. They had a little more offense than we did."
   Montgomery had just two hits, one by Heller and one by Totaro. But the Cougars still found a way to manufacture a run, all without a hit or a bunt. It was all on the legs of Kristina Adams.
   The junior came off the bench to pinch hit to lead off the sixth inning. She worked the count full then fouled off five pitches before looking at ball four, the only walk of the day for Montgomery. Adams stole second, then by dancing off second base, she drew a throw that sailed over the center fielder’s head to allow her to score.
   "It was a great at bat," Ruhlman said. "Then she had the guts to steal second when I didn’t give her the sign. And she came around."
   Adams is one of the players that will return for the Cougars, who lose some talented players in their five seniors.
   "We’re young," Ruhlman said. "It’s going to be tough to lose Meg Hover, Cortney Engelman, Katherine Serpico, Jackie Mohns and Jen Shadrach. They’ve been good for us. Having Meg catch Amanda this year has been great. It’s helped her a lot."
   Engelman has been among the Cougars’ top hitters for the past three seasons and proved capable of playing second base last season before returning to center field this year. When a shoulder injury forced her off the field for two innings Tuesday, it was Shadrach who moved to center and made a running catch to end the fifth. Serpico played shortstop last season while Totaro recovered from a knee injury, and made a smooth transition to first base this season. Mohns added depth and brought leadership to a supportive Cougar bench.
   The five do not leave empty handed. Wednesday’s loss only forced the senior class to share their third Skyland Conference Raritan Division title in four seasons with Belvidere and Somerville. They were freshmen in the program when the Cougars won the CJ I title four years ago.
   They would have liked a chance to play for the CJ II crown, but this time MHS ended up on the wrong side of a one-run game.