BRIDGEWATER – It was a tough moment for Montgomery High School softball Coach Bryan Upshaw when he had to text his players in May to tell them their season was cancelled due to COVID-19.
The news did not sit well with the squad, especially for its three seniors, Madison Wilson, Christina Willard and Sierra Cooper.
Over a month later, Upshaw got to send out another message to his players, this one he was more thrilled to share, about the possibility of playing in a tournament during the summer.
That event ended up being the Somerset County Softball Summer Edition Tournament that took place Aug. 10-11.
The Cougars were one of the eight teams that competed in the tournament, staging an impressive run to the championship game for its third county final appearance in four years.
“Our seniors were so happy to get a chance to play more softball,” Upshaw said. “It was great to see them out there smiling for two days, making plays, getting hits and just being around them. That’s what it was all about.”
The two-day county tournament was spearheaded by Bernards High School softball Coach Leslie O’Connor.
The eight teams were separated into two groups of four (Pool A & Pool B). Each team got to play three games on the first day of the tournament. The top two teams from each group advanced to the semifinals that were held on the second day of the tournament with the championship game being played afterwards.
Montgomery showed off its power at the plate in its first contest of the tournament against Somerville in a 16-3 victory.
Sophomore Reese Wilson belted out two doubles and three RBI for the Cougars, while Willard drove in two runs and had two hits in the tourney opener.
The second contest of the tournament did not fare as well for the Cougars.
A solo home run by Watchung Hills’ Marissa DiPaolo in the second inning to break a 2-2 tie proved to be the difference in the game, with the Warriors topping Montgomery 3-2. Watchung Hills went on to win the Pool B championship.
Freshman Diya Pingili and sophomore Erin Howard each knocked in a run for Montgomery in the contest.
The loss put Montgomery in a must-win situation against Bernards to advance to the semifinals.
With their backs against the wall, Montgomery rose to the occasion with their seniors helping lead the way.
Madison Wilson knocked in two runs and Willard followed up with two hits and an RBI of her own to help Montgomery defeat Bernards 10-1 and advance to the semifinals.
Reese Wilson tallied four strikeouts in a solid complete-game outing in the circle for the Cougars.
“We just want to play softball like any other kid does,” Madison Wilson said. “We were very fortunate for the opportunity to play after losing out on our season. It meant a lot to us seniors.”
The most impressive victory of the tournament for Montgomery was in the semifinals when they faced off against Pool A champion Hillsborough.
Trailing 1-0 going into the fifth inning, Montgomery again overcame a little adversity with the Wilson sisters sparking a rally for the Cougars.
Madison Wilson recorded a one-out RBI triple that scored Sam Mallen from first base to help tie the game.
Next up to the plate came Reese Wilson, and just like her sister did in the at-bat before, Wilson delivered a huge hit for the Cougars.
The sophomore blasted a shot into the gap in right center for an RBI double to put the Cougars out in front for the first time in the ball game.
— Steven Bassin (@SBassin_Sports) August 11, 2020
Madison Wilson extended the Montgomery lead to 3-1 in the seventh inning with impressive running on the base paths.
That was plenty enough for Reese Wilson, who was untouchable during the final four innings of the game.
Wilson retired the final 12 batters she faced, striking out the side in the seventh inning to close out her complete-game gem and finish with eight total strikeouts in the contest.
FINAL! Reese Wilson strikes out the side & @Montgomery_SB advances to the Somerset County Tournament finals with a 3-1 victory over Hillsborough. Stellar complete-game, 8 K performance by Wilson. CC: @central_jersey @MontyAthletics #NJSoftball 🥎 pic.twitter.com/qXs1VV1P9x
— Steven Bassin (@SBassin_Sports) August 11, 2020
“I was very impressed with how I pitched,” Reese Wilson said. “I thought I stayed in the zone well and I did a good job working in my curveball and my rise ball. It was a good outing for me.”
Montgomery went up against the combined team of Manville, Immaculata and Rutgers Prep (Manprepulata) in the championship game.
Trailing 4-0 entering the sixth inning, the Wilson sisters helped the Montgomery bats spark up another rally try.
After her sister led off the inning with a walk, Reese knocked her all the way home with an RBI triple to get Montgomery on the board.
Getting the chance to play together one last time meant a lot to both Madison and Reese, who each said the tournament created a bond between the two of them that they will never forget.
“I was really fortunate to play with my sister again,” Madison Wilson said. “I’ll never forget the bond we made together and how she helped give our team hope in the last two games of the tournament.”
Howard continued the Montgomery rally in the next at-bat by cutting the deficit to 4-2 by blooping in an RBI double to right field.
Erin Howard bloops in an RBI double & @Montgomery_SB cuts the Manville/Prep lead to 4-2. Bats coming alive for the Cougars here in the 6th inning. Still 0 outs. CC: @central_jersey @MontyAthletics #NJSoftball 🥎 pic.twitter.com/KusPGOa99o
— Steven Bassin (@SBassin_Sports) August 12, 2020
The rally was on, but Montgomery couldn’t keep the bats rolling with Manprepulata’s Giana DeLorenzo retiring the next three Cougars in order to escape further trouble.
DeLorenzo earned MVP honors for the tournament by racking up six strikeouts during her four stellar innings of work in relief to help Manprepulata win the county title with a 5-2 victory over Montgomery.
It was not the ending to the tournament Montgomery had wanted; however, the team walked off the field at the North Bridge Softball Complex proud of what they were able to accomplish together in the tournament.
The two days spent together on the diamond provided Montgomery the chance to create memories they lost out on this spring and its two days that players and coaches on the team will never forget.
“Hats off to my kids. They didn’t back down and fought to the end,” Upshaw said. “It was just good to see all the kids out there playing after they lost out of their season. I’m happy for my seniors. I’m going to miss all three of them.”