Baseball, softball teams face week of decision

Showdowns will determine A North races

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

JEFFGRANIT staff Marlboro's Dianna DiSanto stretches for the ball during the Mustangs' loss to Manalapan on April 25 in Manalapan.JEFFGRANIT staff Marlboro’s Dianna DiSanto stretches for the ball during the Mustangs’ loss to Manalapan on April 25 in Manalapan. By the end of this week, the baseball and softball races in the Shore Conference A North Division should be much clearer.

Manalapan and Colts Neck find themselves major players in both races.

It’s a four-way race in A North softball between Manalapan, Colts Neck, Middletown North and Middletown South. Manalapan, Colts Neck and North each have two conference setbacks, with South lurking just one game back.

The two-time defending champion Braves were in charge of the division until back-to-back losses to North and South last week that created a logjam at the top of the standings.

The Braves head into the homestretch knowing that they have the best pitcher in the division in Ashley Rampino and the experience of having won big games before. Jill Kwiatkowski is one of the most feared hitters in the Shore (.450) and she has gotten a lot of support from Danielle LaCugna. Both rank among the leaders in batting average, RBIs, runs scored and extra base hits.

This is a big week for the Braves (9-3) and their quest for a third straight title. Monday they traveled to Colts Neck and today they will host Middletown North. Manalapan’s championship hopes will ride on these two games.

Colts Neck, which lost at Manalapan back in April, had a chance to be the front-runner, but the Cougars fell to Howell, 5-1, in Colts Neck last week, giving them two losses.

The Cougars are in the same boat as the Braves this week, with their championship aspirations resting on how they fare in their two critical games. Besides Manalapan, they are hosting Middletown South today. Head coach Chris Hoffman has pointed out that his underclassman-dominated team can no longer use youth as an excuse. This week will determine if they are ready to take the next step and win a championship.

Nicole Wisniewski has provided the dominating pitching expected of her. Her earned run average going into last week’s action was 0.70, third best in the Shore (Rampino was second at 0.30) and she was second in K’s.

Sarah Jane Leder (.483) and Kate Kuzma (.389) have been the catalysts on offense.

A North baseball is no less up for grabs, with Christian Brothers Academy the wild card.

Middletown North and Colts Neck were both 7-2 through play last week and tied for first (CBA was at 7-3). Manalapan was right on their heels at 7-4.

Colts Neck, seeking its first-ever baseball title, beat defending division champion Freehold Township Wednesday, 5-2, all but eliminating the Pats from the race. The champions dropped their third straight division contest and fell to 4-5 (5-5 overall),

The Cougars (9-3), have gotten the outstanding play expected of four-year starters A.J. Rusbarsky and Dominick Hayes. The good news, though, is the way that everyone else is chipping in. Ashton Jackson, Pete Salvati, Frank Piazza and Ethan Jackson all hit for power and average.

Ashton Jackson had a game for the ages last week in a nondivision game against Matawan, won by Colts Neck, 19-11. The junior outfielder hit for the cycle while going 5-for-6 and had seven RBIs.

In Anthony DeSclafani, the Cougars do have the top ace in the division.

Manalapan has steered a steady course since returning from Florida. The Braves thrust themselves back into the race when they beat CBA, 7-3, to complete a season sweep of the Colts. Mitchell Litt tossed a three-hitter for the Braves, who are 7-3 overall and 4-3 in the division. Manalapan followed that win up with a thrilling 3-2 win over Marlboro, scoring three runs in the top of the seventh. Matt Cook’s two-RBI single drove in the tying and winning runs.

If that hadn’t been enough to make the Braves believe they had something special going, they scored six runs in the bottom of the seventh to rally past Howell, 11-9. A home run by Ryan Harvey completed the comeback.

Nick Turano, Brian Tamalone, Dave Becker and Shawn McGrane have been getting it done with the bats for the Braves.

Monday, something had to give when Manalapan visited Colts Neck. With a win, the Braves would catch the Cougars, and then they will host Middletown North today with the chance to tie them with a win.

Colts Neck, of course, just needs to keep on winning (they have a make-up game with Middletown North on the horizon).