Rebuilding year becomes season of contention for Patriots


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By Jeff Appelblatt

When the softball season began in April, Freehold Township High School coach Mike Stoia wasn’t sure what to expect. He just hoped his young team would try its hardest to compete.

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More than a month and 16 victories later, Stoia was ecstatic not only to watch his team compete, but also to watch it contend.

“We said this was kind of a rebuilding season, [but] we’ve met expectations, and we’ve surpassed expectations,” the coach said. “Right now, we’re just trying to build for the future. The deeper we get, the more experience we get; it’s only going to help for the next couple of years.”

Not often do rebuilding seasons include playoff victories. On May 17, however, the Patriots pulled out a 7-1 win against Manalapan High School in the first round of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Central Jersey, Group IV tournament. Two days later, Freehold Township pounded Point Pleasant Beach High School, 10-0, in the preliminary round of the Shore Conference Tournament.

“At this point, I told the girls, we had a win in the Monmouth County Tournament, the Shore Conference Tournament and the state tournament,” Stoia said after beating Point Pleasant Beach. “That’s a pretty successful season so far.

“With every win we get, every round we advance, that’s kind of uncharted territory for a lot of these kids.”

Stoia just hopes his girls continue to treat the tournaments the same way they treated the season.

“We have to keep taking it one game at a time,” Stoia said. “We made it to the states last year but lost in the first round. We didn’t even make the Shore Conference Tournament. In the Monmouth County Tournament, we got knocked out and played in the loser’s bracket.”

Freshman Gia McKnight has been one of Freehold Township’s top anchors. She’s been on the mound for 117 innings, and she walked away the winning pitcher in 14 of the games she threw.

The team’s coach had nothing but praise for his hitters as well. Top-notch pitching can only win so many games, but batting averages above .400 can often make a difference.

Taylor Tobey (.443), Zoey Valentino (.437), Kiersten Withstandley (.405) and Lauren Pscolka (.405) have quite often been the difference in the game, while Lauren Andersen, Kayla Pscolka and Kayla Loges have been essential to the offense with averages slightly below .400.

Freehold Township had a sectional game May 22 against Old Bridge High School.

“In the states [now], if we play well, we could compete with anybody,” Stoia said before the game. “That’s our tournament to win.”

The more his team plays, the better Freehold Township’s coach expects his team to be down the line.

“Hopefully, we’re going to be good for the next couple of years,” Stoia said. “Any experience we get now is only going to make us better.”

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