MONTGOMERY: Cougars capture CJ IV softball crown

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Pictured are members of the Montgomery High softball team that captured the Central Jersey Group IV championship with a 1-0 win over Old Bridge

By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
Right from the start of the season, first-year head coach Brian Upshaw sensed there was something special about this year’s Montgomery High softball team.
“They all had goals,” Upshaw said. “Winning counties was one of our goals and we made it to the final. Now we get to put that year on the banner over on that fence and that means everything to them.
“That’s why we scheduled those tough teams. We wanted to see that pitching and get to test our defense to see if we could hang with the top dogs in the state.”
Montgomery not only has been hanging with the big dogs of the state, they have become one of those big dogs. The Cougars wrapped up their first sectional title since 2004 when they defeated Old Bridge, 1-0, on Tuesday in the Central Jersey Group IV championship game.
“It was a true team win,” said pitcher Peyton Schnackenberg, who allowed just two hits and struck out 10 to earn the win on the mound. “Julia (Loffredo) coming through with that hit and making that play at the end, it was awesome. It was great to get the win.”
The Cougars picked up the only run they would need when Loffredo doubled to score Christine Willard. From there Schackenberg took over, retiring the final 13 batters she faced.
“When we got the lead you still have to keep thinking like it is a 0-0 game,” Schnackenberg said. “You can’t let the lead get to you.
“It’s tough. You just have to focus through it. It keeps me sharper as a pitcher because if we have a bigger lead I can get sloppy. The closer games are where you really need to stay focused.”
With the win, Montgomery advanced to the Group IV semifinals against Egg Harbor. A win would put the Cougars in the Group IV final against either North Hunterdon or Morris Knolls.
“It’s been amazing,” Schnackenberg said. “We had a coaching change at the beginning of the year. Coach Upshaw is an awesome coach. The tone has completely changed. We had our 18-game winning streak. We play for each other. On and off the field we are best friends and that really helps the dynamic of the team. We play for each other and every game is a team win. No one person ever does it.”
The Cougars have been challenged all season by a tough schedule that has made them ready for the competition they have seen and will see throughout the rest of the tournament.
“Coach Upshaw really helped us out with that by getting games against IHA and we played Watchung (Hills) and all the top teams at the beginning of the season,” Schnackenberg said. “That helped us get prepared for this.”
Montgomery has made a habit of winning close games all season and especially in the state tournament. The Cougars won their last three CJ IV games by a total of five runs.
“We’re going to be having those games where we are biting our nails and playing one-run games,” Upshaw said. “As long as we get that result we’re happy with that. Coach (Andrew) Carfley and I tell the kids everyone has a job and if they do their job we can get the result. Today was one of those games that could have gone either way. Peyton pitched a great game and Julia made a great play along the base line and had that big hit. Everyone is doing their job. It was a real team win.”
And Upshaw and the Cougars always feel if they can give Schnackenberg a lead, she’ll bring the win home.
“Any time we can get ahead of a team and Peyton is on the mound we are very confident and it brings a lot of energy to our team,” Upshaw said. “You can tell our bench really woke up with the chants and the energy after that first run. It was an energy and confidence builder.”