Howell softball team set for postseason action

Staff Writer

The Howell High School softball team is ready to make the most of its appearances in several upcoming tournaments. With the Shore Conference Tournament and the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV state sectional tournament approaching, the Rebels (11-7) are playing their best softball of the season. The team’s improved play was reflected in Howell’s 4-2 win over Jackson Memorial High School on May 11. The two teams could meet again in the state tournament.

Howell pitcher Carsin Conner held the Jaguars (10-5) to three hits and surrendered just one earned run. She helped her own cause by hitting a home run, her third of the year.

Lauren Van Wie (3-3) and Annemarie Bartow (2-3) combined for five hits and each had an RBI for Howell, which improved to 10-7 on the season.

Elissa Connell, Howell’s co-head coach with Sandra Hempel, initially attributed the up-and-down nature of the Rebels’ 2011 season to the new coaches and to the players becoming familiar with each other, their personalities and expectations. She said the adjustment period is over. “We are just looking to ride our wave into the postseason and see where it takes us,” Connell said.

Even while the Rebels were trying to come together as a team, one thing remained consistent.

“The girls have worked very hard,” Connell said.

What can make Howell a dangerous tournament team is its battling lineup. Any one of the nine hitters can hurt an opponent. Howell can put together a big inning, or the Rebels can manufacture runs in a close game.

Lauren Saal (.580) and Carsin Conner (.400) are leading what has been a very balanced lineup in hitting.

“Offensively, we have had contributions from everyone in the lineup at one point in the season or another, which is always nice,” said Connell, who was a softball standout at Howell.

Center-fielder Cassidy Brzozowski has been the standout on defense. Many a would-be hit has settled into her glove. Connell said the Rebels can count on Brzozowski “to come up with a big catch when we really need one.”

Conner, who missed the 2010 season with a shoulder injury, has teamed with last year’s starter Stefanie Gilbert to give Howell a very good one-two pitching rotation.

The state sectional tournament will begin on May 26.

The Rebels earned the No. 15 seed for the Shore Conference Tournament and will host No. 18 seed Central Regional High School of Bayville in a first-round game that must be played by May 21. The winner of that game will play No. 2 seed Red Bank Catholic in the second round.

All games up to and including the quarterfinals will be played on the home field of the highest-seeded team. The Shore Conference Tournament semifinals (June 4) and championship game (June 8) will be played at Wall High School in Wall Township.

Howell and Freehold Township (9-6) are the only Freehold Regional High School District teams that have automatically qualified for the state tournament by having a .500 or better record by the May 13 cutoff date. Sub-.500 teams can get in if a section bracket (16 teams) is not filled.

Manalapan (7-9) and Colts Neck (8-10) had a chance to make the Shore Conference Tournament field and could be in line to reach the state tournament if the brackets in their group are not filled.

Coach Beth English’s Freehold Township Patriots will be a tough out in any tournament. The Patriots have pitcher Jordyn White (1.15 ERA) and one of the best players in the Shore Conference, if not the state, in Marist College-bound Taylor Kuzma.

Kuzma, a shortstop, ranks among the conference leaders in just about every offensive category. She is batting .670 and leads the conference with 23 stolen bases. With nine doubles and three home runs among her 28 hits, Kuzma has the combination of speed and power.

Manalapan can rely on hurler Caitlin Gee (1.83 ERA), Jaclyn Tsang (.429 batting average) and Cassie Hrevnak (six doubles, two home runs) to keep the Braves in games.

Colts Neck has had a nice bounce-back season with Tracy Buffer (.447) and Cassie Leo (two home runs) sparking the Cougars’ offense.