Raider softball team beats Montgomery
by Rudy Brandl, Sports Editor
Many members of this year’s young Hillsborough High softball team hadn’t even reached middle school when the intense rivalry with Montgomery began earlier this decade. Two of those young ladies added their names to the list of Raider heroes in this heated series in last Friday’s 2-0 victory.
Sophomore Brittany Ksiezopolski pitched the best game of her young varsity career by blanking the Cougars with 14 strikeouts. Ksiezopolski was untouchable for most of the day scattering just four hits and no walks while allowing only two runners to reach second base.
Freshman Ashley Pellicane delivered the biggest hit of her brief varsity life with a clutch two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the fifth inning. Pellicane also played flawless defense at shortstop.
Veteran head coach Cheryl Iaione wasn’t sure what to expect from her team at the start of the season. Youth can be scary in a bad way at times. Last Friday, it was frightening in a very good way.
”I know we’re talented talent is not the issue,” Iaione said. “The lack of game experience together is a concern, but the way they’ve been stepping up is unbelievable. It’s starting to come together.”
It all started with Ksiezopolski (5-0) simply dominating the Cougars, who have piled up many runs this spring. The HHS sophomore had excellent command of all her pitches, especially a nasty changeup that kept Montgomery off stride.
”I really worked my in and out pitches and threw one or two changeups to mostly every batter to keep them off their feet,” Ksiezopolski said. “In the beginning it’s nerve-wracking because you don’t know if it’s going to work. Once I got it down, I knew it was working.”
Ksiezopolski, who played on the varsity team but did not pitch as a freshman, worked hard in the off-season. Hillsborough has other talented pitchers in the program, but Ksiezopolski has earned the ball with her early performances. Iaione also likes her team’s defensive alignment best with Ksiezopolski in the circle.
The Raiders gave their pitcher all the support she needed with two runs in the fifth. They hit the ball hard all day against Montgomery ace Casey Niper. The home team banged out eight hits, including two doubles to the wall, but couldn’t get enough clutch hits to break the game open. There was also a base running blunder that stopped a potential rally.
Pellicane came through with the game’s only run-scoring hit in the fifth. Christine Fisher smacked a 1-2 pitch for a one-out single to center and Christina LoBrutto slapped her way aboard with an infield hit. Runners advanced to second and third when the shortstop’s throw went wide of first base. Pellicane smoked a 2-0 pitch into center field for a two-run single.
”I was just waiting for her to throw something I could hit,” Pellicane said. “I just exploded on it and got in two runs.”
Ksiezopolski handled most of the rest from the circle and the Raiders played spotless defense behind her. Pellicane and third baseman Margaret Gilroy handled multiple chances in the game. Only three singles left the infield against Ksiezopolski.
”Brittany has arrived,” Iaione said. “She’s just doing a great job. She’s cool under pressure and all her pitches were working today. Melissa (Weinstein) did a great job behind the plate and we made the plays in the field.”
Perhaps looking ahead to Friday’s showdown, the Raiders were sluggish in Thursday’s 2-0 win over Voorhees. They also needed that victory to remain undefeated in the league since divisional crossover games count in the standings, but obviously the motivation was not as strong. Even the youngsters understand that.
”This was one of my best performances and we beat one of our biggest rivals,” Ksiezopolski said.
The Raiders will see Montgomery again, possibly two or three more times this spring. The teams are seeded 1-2 in the Somerset County Tournament and could be on a collision course to the finals. Hillsborough begins SCT action with a quarterfinal game at home Saturday at 3 p.m.
”We’re definitely ready,” Iaione said. “We had to bring the A game today. They know what the rivalry is about now. I can’t say enough about them.”