BCC women after 11th straight Region title

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

As Bo Scannapieco sees it, the pressure is off his defending national champions.

When the Region XIX women’s softball tournament rolls around this week, the Jersey Blues (26-11) could find themselves in a very unfamiliar position, without a first-round bye. Brookdale hosts Cumberland in a doubleheader today; and if the Blues sweep the twin bill, they will avoid playing in the first round. However, if they split or were to lose both games, the Blues could fall to the No. 4 seed and would be playing either Cumberland or Camden in a best-of-three first-round series in Lincroft that would begin at noon Saturday.

The Region XIX tournament finals are May 5-6 in Middlesex.

That Brookdale is in this situations says something about the balance in this year’s tournament. Only two games are separating the top four teams – Sussex, Gloucester, Camden and Brookdale – heading into the final week of the regular season.

As Brookdale seeks its 11th straight Region crown and a return trip to the nationals, the Blues may not have the aura of invincibility that previous editions have had, with teams now believing the Blues can be beat. But they do have a lot going for them. They have five players back from last year’s national championship team who know what its take to win. No other team in the tournament has that kind of experience.

Then, there is talent. Scannapieco, who remains optimistic, still believes his squad has the talent edge over the opposition. Brookdale’s biggest problem this year has been playing with consistency, even though most teams would like to be 26-11 and seen as struggling.

“It’s been one of those years,” said Scannapieco, who recently picked up his 600th career win at Brookdale. “No question we’ve been unlucky with the 50/50 things [line drives that either settle in a glove or go as hits or bloopers that somehow find their way between fielders, or fall into a mitt], but the things we can control, we’re not controlling.

“We’re not hitting with runners on base, we’re not getting the big out from our pitchers when we need it and our defense has not been consistent,” he added.

That may explain the Blues six one-run losses this year.

If you go by stats, though, the Blues have been as dominant as any of the teams that have captured the last 10 region titles. But as Mark Twain said, “there are lies, damn lies and statistics.” Scannapieco knows that. The batting averages are there, but the hits haven’t always been timely. In one game this year, the Blues put 30 runners on base but scored only three runs. That has made the Blues more vulnerable than in the past.

On the mound, the Blues haven’t had the lights out pitching as in past years, but they do have more depth than any team in the tournament, depth that Scannapieco sees as a big plus.

“I have four pitchers with fairly equal ability,” he said. “That’s our edge. This tournament has the chance to go into the extra game and we’re the one team that could play three games in a day. We have a edge with our pitching.”

Another edge is that the starters – Kara Hertzke, Erin Covell, Kelly Hughest and Amanda Roberts – all have big-game experience.

“All have started in a big conference game,” noted Scannapieco. “Stage fright won’t beat us.”

This week, Scannapieco will have his team playing as many games as he can to try and get them ready for the defense of their region title.

“I told the girls, ‘There’s no pressure on us now,’ ” he said. “There are no ranking games to play. We can relax and work on getting better.”

Every other team in the field for the Region tournament wishes it had Brookdale’s problems. Because of all the teams trying to be the one to overthrow them, none has ever won it before. If any team can turn it on when it needs to it is Brookdale. The Blues are a prideful group who can be expected to bring their best to Middlesex, and that just might be enough to keep the winning streak going.