Second national title gives BCC softball validation

Blues beat New York

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

Brookdale Community College’s softball team wore its No. 1 ranking well.

The Jersey Blues, who were No. 1 in the preseason national polls and remained there throughout the season, completed their conquest of junior college Division III softball Saturday by winning their second national championship, beating Broome (N.Y.), 3-0, in the final played in Horseheads, N.Y.

Coach Bo Scannapieco marveled at the way his team held up under the yearlong pressure.

“Carrying No. 1 from the preseason right to the end was tough on the girls,” he said. “It was a heck of a burden on them. But it was an incentive for us. The girls saw teams celebrate during the season when they beat us, and it made them want it [the national championship] more.”

There wasn’t a lot of celebrating by opposing teams as the Blues finished the season 49-8, including a perfect 9-0 in tournament play.

“We played like No. 1,” Scannapieco said of his team’s nearly perfect performance at the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III Championship. “Give all the credit to the girls. They were hungry, smart and aggressive. They wanted it.”

It would be hard to find anything the Blues did wrong last weekend in Horseheads. They made it seem easier than it was, marching through the tournament without a loss. They were the complete team they’ve been all year, excelling on the mound, defensively and with the bat. But the pitching was something to brag about.

Cherise Maltais (Manalapan) and Elyse Papaianni (Manasquan) were more like Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, holding teams to a combined two runs in four games.

“They were dominant and we played great defense behind them,” Scannapieco said. “They were up for it. I think they benefited from last year’s experience [when BCC was sixth at the national tournament]. They pitched well then too.”

Maltais gave a preview for what Jersey Blues’ opponents were up against in the first game of the tournament of May 19. She one-hit Dawson College (Mont.), striking out six and walking no one as Brookdale won, 5-0.

Lynn Olender (Sayreville) was 4-for-4 with a triple and two RBIs. Erin Covell (Notre Dame) was 2-for-4 with an RBI.

In the second game of the day, Papaianni and Brookdale beat Broome and Michelle Forsburg, the top pitcher in the country, 4-1, striking for three runs the top of the seventh. Jessica Williams (Central Regional) snapped the 1-1 tie in the top of the seventh with an RBI single. Kara Hertzke (Raritan) contributed an RBI ground out, and the third run scored on a wild pitch.

Olender, the Blues’s lead-off hitter, was 3-for-4 and scored twice in the night-cap. She was 6-for-7 on the opening day and well on her way to winning her tournament Most Valuable Player award.

Papaianni more than matched Forsburg, holding Broome to just three hits.

Friday, Brookdale advanced to the national finals by beating the College of DuPage (Ill), 2-1, in the winner’s bracket final. Maltais was on the top of her game again, improving to 18-2 as she shut DuPage down on four hits while striking out seven.

Olender started things off for BCC by smacking a lead-off home run in the last of the first. Before the inning was over Brookdale, extended the lead to 2-0 as Allyson Weinkofsky (Ocean) scored on Covell’s RBI grounder. Weinkofsky had reached base on a bunt single.

Maltais made the two runs stand up as Brookdale was off to the final for the fourth time in eight years.

By getting to Saturday undefeated in the double-elimination tournament, the Blues were in a great position. Broome had to play earlier in the day (beating DuPage) to advance to the final via the loser’s bracket. Broome then needed to beat Brookdale twice in order to win the national title in the double-elimination format. The Blues had Papaianni up in the first game with the security of Maltais on deck if a second game was needed. Broome had 32-game winner Forsburg and no one else.

Papaianni matched Forsburg again. Although Forsburg was on the top of her game, holding Brookdale to just four hits, the Blues pushed three runs across the plate in the fourth inning when opportunity knocked.

Two errors set the table for Brookdale. Forsburg was able to get two outs, but as has been the case all year, the Blues came up with the big hit. Sarah Flannery (Ocean) delivered a two-RBI single that platted Christen Cirello (Manalapan) and Leah Minnick (Middletown South), who had reached on errors. Olender brought home the third run of the inning on a single.

“We had a lot of clutch hitting in the tournament,” Scannapieco said. “I had 17 players on the roster and all of the kids contributed.”

Papaianni, who pitched a three-hitter, kept Broome off the scoreboard in the final three innings, picking up her 18th win of the season, and Brookdale had a second national title to go with its 2002 championship team.

Scannapieco said two things stood out about the tournament. One, was beating Forsburg twice. The Blues followed the same script in both wins, having Papaianni keep the team in the game and striking when they had a chance.

“We stayed close and when we got an opportunity, we took advantage of it,” he said.

Second, Brookdale’s path to the championship was lined with the best teams in Horseheads. In their bracket, were three of the top four teams in the tournament, runner-up Broom and DuPage.

For Scannapieco, the second national title will take Brookdale to another level.

“When you win it a second time, it really validates your program nationally,” he said.

From the time he first got a look at his team last fall, Scannapieco had a very good feeling about it.

“We always have competitive teams here, and once in a while you have one that is slightly better than normal,” he said. “We had balance. We had three pitchers, were good defensively and were balanced on offense with power and speed, and we had experience. All of that translates into a very fine team.”

The finest in the land.