Braves extend season with key state playoff win

Tanke, Rampino shine in 10-2 over Colts Neck

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

ERIC SUCAR  staff Manalapan's Lauren Piccarelli breaks up a potential double play during the Braves' state tournament win over Colts Neck on Thursday in Manalapan.ERIC SUCAR staff Manalapan’s Lauren Piccarelli breaks up a potential double play during the Braves’ state tournament win over Colts Neck on Thursday in Manalapan. The Manalapan Braves got the message loud and clear.The morning before they hosted Colts Neck in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV softball tournament quarterfinals on May 24, coach Jeannette Bruno reminded her team that if they dropped their state game to the Cougars, they would be handing in their uniforms. The season would be over.

“You don’t get a second chance,” said Bruno, who has led the Braves to three straight Shore Conference A North Division titles. “There are no do overs.”

Evidently, the Braves weren’t ready to see their championship season come to an end. Letting their bats speak for them and with Ashley Rampino in her usual control on the mound, the Braves thumped Colts Neck, 10-2, and advanced to the section semi-final.

Freshman Brianne Tanke’s bat spoke the loudest for the Braves. She would go 3-4 including a home run and five RBI as part of a 16-hit attack.

“We had to play hard,” she said. “We were fired up. We didn’t want the season to end.”

As for her hitting prowess (her second home run in as many games and fourth on the season) she said hitting lessons two nights earlier at Play Ball Sports didn’t hurt. It was time well spent.

Tanke got the ball rolling for the Braves in the bottom of the first. Colts Neck’s 19-game winner Nicole Wisniewski appeared to have done a Houdini act. After the Braves had loaded the bases on two infield hits and a fielder’s choice with no one out, she was one strike away from getting out of the inning without surrendering a run. A strike out and force out at the plate had kept Manalapan off the board. She had two strikes on Tanke when the Brave leftfielder lined her serving into left field scoring two runs.

“It was very important to score first and early,” noted Bruno.

Tanke knew her clutch hit would get the Braves going

“When one person gets a big hit, it gives everyone confidence,” she pointed out.

She knows her team well. It didn’t take long for the Braves to strike again. Nicole Gurrieri’s double to center field put runners on second and with two out, Tanke did it again with an RBI single. Deanna Daluise followed with a big two RBI double to build a 5-0 lead.

Colts Neck has not been one of the Shore area’s best teams this year because the Cougars can’t come back to win games. The Cougars would bounce back and push two runs across the board in the top of the fourth to quickly get back in the game. They took advantage of three walks that loaded the bases infield errors and an infield hit by Kate Kuzma to cut the deficit to a manageable three runs, 5-2.

But, the Braves struck right back with three more runs. Rampino, Jill Kwiatowski and Gurrieri struck RBI hits and Manalapan built the lead to 8-2.

Tanke’s line shot over the centerfield fence in the bottom of the sixth with Kwiatowski on board was the final blow of the game for the Braves (21-6), who moved on to the sectional semi-final.

“Brianne is like Ashley was when she was a freshman,” said Bruno. “Nothing seems to affect her.”

Rampino won her 21st game and tossed a three-hitter and fanned 10 and allowed no earned runs.

Manalapan, the No. 3 seed in the section, got a break Thursday when No. 2 seed Montgomery fell to East Brunswick and, No. 1 seed Old Bridge lost to Hunterdon Central. That means that Manalapan hosted yesterday’s semi-final with East Brunswick and, if the Braves won, they will host the Central Jersey Group IV title game tomorrow afternoon.

Both Manalapan and Colts Neck (19-9) were staring at elimination last week after each, had suffered early round exits in the Shore Conference Tournament the day before. The Braves lost in extra innings to Lacey 2-1 (Tanke’s home run in the bottom of the seventh sent the game into extra frames) and Colts Neck was take out by Ocean Township, 6-3.

For Colts Neck, the loss ended the school’s most successful season.

“It was a disappointing way to end the season,” said Cougar coach Chris Hoffman. “We broke the school record for wins for the second year in a row and won the school’s first state game (Hillsborough).”

What pleased Hoffman the most was the attitude of his team towards the season, which saw them come up one game short of winning the program’s first title (Shore Conference A North Division).

“We don’t think we had a great season,” he pointed out. “I’m looking forward to next year. The good thing is that everyone is back.”

That includes 19-game winner Wisniewski, who was one of the best hurlers in the conference this year and Kuzma, who this spring developed into one of the best all around players in the conference. Kuzma is a sophomore and Wisniewski, a junior.