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Braves’ softball team starting to find win column

By Jeff Appelblatt

Time could heal most any slump in sports. Catch a groove, and a few losses could be balanced out with some wins.

That’s what Manalapan High School softball coach Christian Erbig hoped for after his team’s first win. The girls opened the season with four losses, but they managed to do most everything right in the fifth game. As a result, the Braves won that day in Manalapan, shutting out Freehold High School, 11-0.

Finding the win column about two weeks into the season took a lot of teamwork — starting with the bats. The first six hitters in the lineup swung for at least one hit, getting Manalapan to 10 on the day. Julia Cafaro had three of those hits. She also had four RBIs and scored three runs.

Cafaro loved the feeling of winning.

“It [was] a rough start, but I think we’re getting it together,” she said. “It feels good to get a win.”

The first-year head coach couldn’t help but agree how good it felt to win.

“It feels good. We needed a win. We needed it badly. We had our confidence brought back up,” Erbig said.

Manalapan’s confidence must have risen. The team followed up the April 18 victory with another the next day at Neptune High School. The Braves went off for eight runs in the first inning and dominated straight through on the road to a 19-7 blowout.

Madison Pettit, who had two hits and three RBIs against Freehold, slapped another three hits against Neptune.

Just like that, the losing streak Manalapan faced early was reversed into a few consecutive wins.

“We’re just going to keep working together,” Cafaro said.

“We like winning, so we’re going to try to keep it going,” teammate Nicollette Jomo said.

It looked like Manalapan had the momentum April 22 to keep winning. The team scored four runs in the opening inning and followed it with another pair in the second. The shutout didn’t extend beyond the first, but Manalapan still held a 6-3 lead entering into the final frame against Middletown High School South.

The Eagles’ bats came to life that inning, however, and they went off for six runs, including a three-run home run, to finish off the attack and defeat the Braves, 9-6.

Middletown South is where Erbig got his first experience coaching.

“My dad was the head coach at Middletown South. I was [an] assistant for him for two years,” Erbig said.

His dad, Tom Erbig, retired last season with 722 victories under his belt — the most of any softball coach in New Jersey.

At Manalapan, the younger Erbig doesn’t base his goals for this year or the next on his father’s accomplishments. But he most certainly has goals for the Braves this season and beyond.

“I’m trying to build us up and get us to where we belong,” the 2009 Middletown High School North graduate said. “We’re good. We’re talented. We just need to show it.”

The next chance the Braves (2-5) will have to show their talent is April 26 at 4 p.m. against division-rival Colts Neck High School. The Cougars (3-3) beat up the Braves on opening day, 9-1.

Erbig couldn’t wait for the rematch with them or any of the nearby foes that took down his team the first time around.

“We played Colts Neck. We lost to them. We played [and] lost to [Freehold] Township,” Manalapan’s coach said. “The good thing is we get to play them again. That’s what I’m excited for. I’m excited to go and keep improving.

“[Then] we get another shot at them.”

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