By Wayne Witkowski
Middletown High School North seniors Riley Kernan, Ryan Rasmussen, Kayla Gallo, Liz Dorsa and Angela Delahanty are looking to graduate next month with something few seniors can claim: a third straight Shore Conference Tournament softball championship.
They would do it playing for their third coach in four years, as Chris Hoffman took over the program that Marc Rosner established with instant success the last two seasons. This season, Rosner is coaching at Raritan High School, which also is making a bid in the Shore Conference Tournament.
“This group has played together since they were 8, 9 years old. They know what each other is going to do,” said Hoffman, who had successful six-year stints at Colts Neck High School and then at Manalapan High School before this season. “How they get along as a team goes a long way.”
The five players have a solid supporting group around them in an 18-2 season and an unbeaten run through Shore Conference B North Division. They got a solid test in another tournament championship game May 16 when they played perennial finalist Saint John Vianney High School for the Monmouth County Tournament championship.
“It comes down to who gets the big hit at the end,” Hoffman said of that title game.
The Lions open play in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association North Jersey, Section II, Group III tournament May 18 as the No. 1 seed against Rahway High School. As the No. 3 seed behind Donovan Catholic High School and St. John Vianney, Middletown North gets a bye in the first round and begins play next week.
Hoffman’s key for success is simple: Take every opponent seriously and expect close games because many teams in the tournament are capable of winning and can’t be taken lightly, regardless of their records.
Middletown North turned in a solid warmup May 12 against Donovan Catholic, acclaimed by many as the No. 1 team in the state, in a 2-1 loss. Donovan Catholic scored in the fourth and fifth innings, and Middletown North, held to four hits, rallied back in the sixth on an RBI hit by Kernan, who also pitched a five-hitter in the loss.
Its other loss came early in the season to Allentown High School, 3-1.
Hoffman called Kernan, who committed to the University of Rhode Island, one of the best pitchers in the state. With a 15-2 record, Kernan has allowed 31 runs — 24 earned — in 114 innings pitched for a 1.30 ERA. She has 122 strikeouts and 30 walks. She also bats .333 with 19 RBIs.
Hoffman said he has allowed Rasmussen, the catcher, to call pitches — the first time he has given the catcher the green light in his coaching career.
“No one calls a better game,” he said.
Dorsa plays second base and bats .380 with 15 RBIs. Right fielder Gallo bats .425 with 11 RBIs.
The Cerbo sisters add a lot of scoring punch, with left fielder Adrianna hitting .472 with 22 RBIs and first baseman Gaby batting .391 with 19 RBIs.
The rest of the lineup includes third baseman Milena Wilton, who hits .348 with 12 RBIs; shortstop Alyssa Vetrano, who bats .350 with 22 RBIs and who once led the Shore in the latter category; and center fielder Sam Kanach. Designated player Tara McNulty has a .295 batting average and has knocked in 13 runs.
The team has reliable hitting but not the power it had in recent seasons.
Raritan, meanwhile, finished 13-6 and was tied with Matawan Regional High School for second place in the Shore Conference A Central Division at 9-3 behind St. John Vianney, which went unbeaten in the league.
“We’re getting what we’ve expected from our players,” Rosner said.
The coach said the young team has grown up with no seniors among the first seven hitters in the batting order.
Sophomore Erynn Boyle has come on as the No. 1 pitcher with a 7-2 record and a 1.6 ERA. In 65 innings pitched, she has allowed 65 hits and 21 runs — 15 earned — with 52 strikeouts and just five walks.
“We want to play our best softball at the end of the season,” Rosner said. “If we play as a team, on any day we can compete with any one, not just for this year but for the future.”
Shortstop Morgan O’Donnell leads the hitting with a .450 average and 21 RBIs. Freshman Taylor Calicari bats .435, and second baseman Ashley Marino hits .321 with 13 RBIs. Annalisa DeLaurenzo is a productive leadoff hitter, batting .387.
Catcher Michele Nestor, right fielder Hallie Barone and versatile position players Lily Tomasiello and Gabbie Zweidinger spotlight the defense.