Brookdale earns top seed for Region 19 softball tournament

By Tim Morris

Nobody knows the big picture of a college softball season than Brookdale Community College’s Bo Scannapieco.

When his Jersey Blues were an uncharacteristic 8-10 to start the season, the Hall of Fame coach didn’t press the panic button like a less experienced coach may have. He insisted that his team was ready to turn the corner. The Jersey Blues are talented, and they would put it together. It was just a matter of time.

“We’re really good,” he said at the time.

Scannapieco, who registered his record 1,000th career win last month, predicted correctly that his team would get on a roll.

Any thoughts that this was the season Brookdale would come crashing back to the pack are long gone, vanished with 25 wins in its last 28 games. The Jersey Blues are 33-13 — a record that is more like the norm for the program.

During the incredible run, the Jersey Blues wrapped up the No. 1 seed for the Region 19 Tournament that begins this week, as well as won the Garden State Athletic Conference title with a 13-1 record.

“Once we got over the hump, we’re doing fine,” Scannapieco said.

The hump was early season distractions, such as bad weather postponing games and creating too many open dates to make consistency difficult, a difficult schedule and the countdown to 1,000 wins for the head coach.

“The team made more of it than me,” Scannapieco said.

It’s no coincidence that the Jersey Blues went on their tear after securing their coach’s milestone.

“All the ingredients were there,”  Scannapieco said.

Now, the focus is on the Region 19 Tournament and earning another trip to the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Division III National Championships — a championship Scannapieco’s teams have won three times.

Brookdale heads into the tournament at Rowan College at Gloucester County hitting on all cylinders. A doubleheader sweep of Division II Monroe College April 26 in Lincroft was a testament to how well the team is playing.

In a 13-5 win in the first game, Taylor Sheridan (Keyport) smacked a grand slam and Danelle Lewis (New Egypt) blasted two home runs — a three-run blast and a two-run shot.

In the second game, Brookdale trailed 5-0 into the fifth inning and rallied to win in extra innings, 9-7, on Taylor Mennie’s (Howell) walk-off, two-run home run. Scannapieco used all 18 players in the game.

“We’ve been getting a lot of big two-out hits, and our pitching has improved — and [pitching is] always the key,” the coach said. “We’ve played good defense.”

Brookdale has been as dangerous as ever on offense, averaging .393 as a team and scoring 371 runs for just under nine a game. The Jersey Blues have been on a home run streak lately.

What makes the offense so dangerous is the overall balance.

“Offensively, it’s always been a different kid,” Scannapieco said. “Speed and power is what we have.”

Mennie leads the team in doubles (16), home runs (eight) and hits (60) while batting .444. She’s slugging at .778. She has 50 RBIs and 45 runs scored.

Bethany Evans (Raritan) leads in RBIs with 56. She’s batting .438 and slugging at .702. She has seven home runs. She was named the Region 19 Player of the Week April 27. During the week she was cited for, she batted .560, had 15 RBIs and hit four home runs.

Cassie Varvaro (Toms River East) has scored 59 runs to lead the team and is batting .472.

Amanda Pringle (Wall) has scored 53 times and is batting .423.

Sheridan is batting .345 with 40 RBIs and 40 runs scored

Varvaro (18), Pringle (17), Mennie (17) and Sheridan (12) are the team’s speed burners, combining for 64 stolen bases.

Lauren Coppinger (Toms River East), Victoria Vogt (Manalapan/County Prep High School) and Lewis have been the team’s pitching rotation. They’ve combined for 26 complete games.

Coppinger has worked the most innings (108.1) and is pitching to a 2.46 ERA. She’s 14-7. She picked up two wins in a recent doubleheader sweep of Rowan, winning the first game as a starter and then picking up the second win in relief.

Vogt is 12-2 with a 2.50 ERA, and Lewis has a 5-2 record with a 3.83 ERA.

Looking at Region 19, Scannapieco said it’s more wide open than past years because there is no dominant pitcher. With the teams playing a best-of-three format, pitching depth could come into play, which is a strong suit for Brookdale.

“I can use all three [pitchers] if I have to,” Scannapieco said. “I think we do have the edge.”

By virtue of being the No. 1 seed, Brookdale has a bye until the semifinals May 7. Region 19 will send two teams to the nationals this year. Thus, the two semifinal winners are champions and go to Rochester, Minnesota, for the national tournament May 19-21.

The best-of-three semifinals begins with a doubleheader May 7. If the teams split the twin bill, they will play the third game May 8.

Baseball team in line for a top seed

Johnny Johnson’s Brookdale baseball team has been playing solid all season with a 33-9 overall mark. The Jersey Blues are 15-3 in Region 19 with three scheduled games and an additional suspended game remaining. They are in second place behind Rowan, which is 17-3. Brookdale, which won both games with Rowan during the season, could nail down the top seed with wins; however, it is assured of at least a second seed and a first-round bye in the tournament.

The baseball tournament is May 13-15 at Cumberland Community College.

Several Jersey Blues are having big offensive seasons.

Alfred Molina, a Red Bank Catholic High School graduate from Freehold Township, is batting .447. He leads Brookdale in hits (63), runs scored (59) and stolen bases (23). He has 16 doubles, nine triples and five home runs.

Joe Sadler (Holmdel) is the top RBI producer with 55. He has a team-high seven home runs and is batting .429.

Mike Santaromita (Marlboro) is batting .414 with 16 doubles to go with six triples and a pair of home runs. He has 34 RBIs, 46 runs scored and 60 base hits.

Mike Russell (St. Joseph-by-the-Sea, Staten Island, New York) has 46 RBIs and 60 hits and is batting .408.

The Jersey Blues are batting .366 as a team.

Brookdale’s pitching has been overpowering. As a team, Brookdale pitchers are averaging a strikeout an inning, led by Danny Serreino (Jackson Liberty), who is 4-1 with 64 strikeouts in 43.1 innings. That’s an average of 13.29 strikeouts a game. The right-hander in pitching to a 3.32 ERA and has hurled four complete games.

JR Hilcher (St. Mary’s), a lefty, is 4-0 with a 2.56  ERA.

Mike Imperato (Marlboro) and Patrick Knight (Cranford) are both 4-2 and have thrown two complete games each.