Marlboro among higher seeds to fall in conference tourney

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By Jeff Appelblatt

Marlboro High School’s softball team had a very good season, but like it was for all the better-ranked teams toward the top of the Shore Conference Tournament, seedings didn’t mean a thing.

Ask the first-place team at Donovan Catholic High School. The top-seeded Griffins (27-2) lost at home to the No. 16 seed from Matawan Regional High School. Matawan (17-11) scored the final five runs of the game and won, 8-6.

“A great job by Matawan,” Marlboro coach Nicholas Scalzo said. “It’s great when a 16 beats a one-seed. I think that shows that the Shore Conference is tough from top to bottom, and anyone could beat anyone on any given day.”

Go down two spots on the bracket, and No. 12-seeded Ocean Township High School defeated No. 5-seeded Howell High School.

Marlboro, the No. 4 seed, did its job in the opening round. The Mustangs (17-6) pounced on Brick Memorial High School in the first inning with seven runs, and they didn’t look back. Marlboro dominated the No. 13 seed, 13-0.

In only four innings of at-bats, every Marlboro hitter made it on base at least once, led by four trips to first by Jessica Rantinella.The sophomore went 3-for-3 with a walk and two runs. Fellow sophomore Jody Thomas cleaned up the bases a bit, knocking in a team-high four runs and scoring one of her own.

Kaleigh Oplinger struck out six in the complete game, and Marlboro went on to face Ocean Township in the next round.

The Spartans (21-7) proved they were no ordinary No. 12 seed, if that wasn’t already established by their opening-round win. Oplinger threw another strong game, strikings out a season-high 11 batters. But the nine hits and three runs she gave up was no match for Ocean Township pitcher Giana Graziano, who fanned 10 and gave up only two hits.

“We ran into a tough Ocean team,” Scalzo said. “Their pitcher did one heck of a job, and they got the big hit when they needed it. “

Despite falling to a lower-seeded team, Marlboro’s coach was happy with what he saw this year.

“We have eight seniors, and they all did a great job all four years for us,” Scalzo said. “They changed the culture and expectation at Marlboro for softball.

“[Our] 17-6 record [was] a school record, and [we] also won [our] first division title.”

Matawan was unable to join Ocean Township in the story of the underdogs. The Huskies were eliminated by Lacey Township High School in the second round, 3-1. But Lacey couldn’t get past Ocean Township. The Spartans continued their Cinderella story, sinking Lacey Township, 6-1.

Things went more as expected on the lower half of the bracket, however. Second-seeded Saint John Vianney High School beat the No. 3 seed from Middletown High School North, 3-2, sending the No. 2 Lancers to the Shore Conference Tournament finals.

The Lancers (27-1) most likely didn’t expect to see No. 4-seed Marlboro in the championship game, but there was no way they expected to see the Spartans. Nevertheless, Ocean Township and St. John Vianney will face off in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game June 7 at 4 p.m. in Holmdel.

As for the Mustangs, Scalzo hopes his team remembers the positives.

“It was a tough way to end the season, but what I told the girls [was] to take away all the positive things they accomplished,” the coach said. “We reminded them to take all the positives with them; [to take] all the relationships and memories.

“[We] told them to remember that’s what it’s all about.”