By Tim Morris
It’s been a long time since the Brookdale Community College softball team went into April with eight losses or a .500 record (8-8).
“It’s been a few years,” Brookdale head coach Bo Scannapieco said. “We played a pretty tough schedule early. That’s not an excuse. Plus, we had a six-day break. It’s been hard to get consistent. However, we have underachieved a bit.”
There has been a silver lining, though, for the Jersey Blues as they look to turn things around. That is Scannapieco’s countdown toward a milestone 1,000 career wins. He started the season with 990 wins at the Lincroft campus and will reach 1,000 this week — possibly March 30 when Brookdale is at home for a doubleheader against Mercer County Community College. When he does get his 1,000th win, he will be the first junior college coach in Division III history to achieve that mark.
“I don’t mention it,” Scannapieco said.
All the fuss over the countdown to the milestone has taken some of the attention away from the Jersey Blues and their slow start, according to Scannapieco, which has been good.
“I feel bad that the focus is on me and not the team,” he said. “With the focus on me, it’s not on their underperforming a bit. I want to get [the 1,000 wins] over and get on a roll.”
Scannapieco believes his team will do just that, especially now that the schedule moves to April and there are few breaks.
“We haven’t been consistent,” he said. “The best way to fix it is to play every day.”
That starts this week with the Jersey Blues playing eight games in five days (four doubleheaders).
If there has been one area on the team that has been consistent throughout the season it’s been the defense.
“We’ve played really well,” Scannapieco said.
With a pitching staff that pitches to contact and relies on the defense making plays, it has been critical for the Jersey Blues defense to play well, which it has. Third baseman Jacquie Coulahan (Howell), catcher Olivia Carbone (Manalapan) and outfielder Taylor Mennie (Howell) have stood out on a team of defensive gems.
Brookdale has a three-pitcher rotation with Lauren Coppinger (Toms River East), Victoria Vogt (Manalapan) and Danielle Lewis (New Egypt). They are pitching to a combined 3.39 ERA.
“We’ve had solid pitching,” Scannapieco said. “Our pitchers are of equal talent.”
Lewis plays shortstop or third base when not pitching.
Offensively, the Jersey Blues have power and speed and although the they are averaging just under eight runs a game, there is room for improvement. They’ve lost some close games because they didn’t get a hit or make contact at a critical time.
“Offensively, we’re not making contact — we’re striking out too much,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “Our contact ratio needs to improve. We’re not bringing the runner home from third with less than two outs.”
Mennie, a freshman, has gotten her college career off to a tremendous start, leading the team with six home runs. She has four doubles and a triple to go with the six round-trippers, and her slugging percentage is a healthy .836. She’s batting .400 and leads the team in RBIs (19) and runs scored (17).
“She’s a five-tool player,” Scannapieco said.
Bethany Evans (Raritan) has two home runs and 15 RBIs while batting .409 and slugging .614.
Coulahan leads the Jersey Blues in batting average (.439) and on-base percentage (.540).
Cassie Varvaro (Toms River East) and Amanda Pringle (Wall) are batting .417 and .415, respectively.
Brookdale’s team batting average is .353.
Along with the hefty batting averages, the Jersey Blues have taken advantage of their team speed to swipe 30 bases, including nine in a recent doubleheader.
Varvaro leads the way with eight, and Mennie and Taylor Sheridan (Keyport) are next with six stolen bases.
“We’re balanced,” Scannapieco said of his 2016 offense.
On March 26, the Jersey Blues traveled to Maryland to play Cecil College, a Division II team with a 10-2 record. The Jersey Blues split a doubleheader, losing, 4-1, and coming back to win the nightcap, 13-2.
There was a lot for Scannapieco to like, such as the pitchers allowing just four hits combined in the two games, the errorless ball by the defense and the 17 hits the team pounded out in the second game.
“It looks like we’re coming around now,” Scannapieco said.
Although the overall record is important, Scannapieco noted that the Region 19 and Garden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) marks are the most important because they determine seeding for the region tournament. Brookdale is 2-0 in the region and GSAC play.
“It’s a very winnable region,” Scannapieco said. “A lot of teams have struggled early.”
This week, the Jersey Blues are home for doubleheaders against Mercer March 30 and Valley Forge Military College April 1.
This year’s Region 19 tournament is at Rowan College at Gloucester County and will run May 7-8.