Colts Neck tops Steinert, 10-1, to win first state sectional softball crown

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The Colts Neck High School softball team celebrates winning the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III championship with a 10-1 victory over Steinert on June 12 in Colts Neck. It's the first sectional championship in program history.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Colts Neck High School first baseman Sasha Stone points towards second base to congratulate teammate Julianna Kowaleski for driving her in during the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III championship game against Steinert on June 12 in Colts Neck. Colts Neck won 10-1.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Colts Neck High School starting pitcher Ava Metzger retires Steinert in order during the first inning of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III final on June 12 in Colts Neck. Metzger recorded 16 strikeouts in the victory.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Colts Neck High School right fielder Julianna Kowaleski smacks an RBI double to the gap in left-center during the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III championship game against Steinert on June 12 in Colts Neck. Kowaleski had two RBI for Colts Neck in the contest.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Colts Neck High School center fielder Cassidy Relay makes a leaping catch over the center-field fence during the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III championship game against Steinert on June 12 in Colts Neck. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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The Colts Neck High School softball team celebrates winning the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III championship with a 10-1 victory over Steinert on June 12 in Colts Neck. It's the first sectional championship in program history.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Colts Neck High School first baseman Sasha Stone points towards second base to congratulate teammate Julianna Kowaleski for driving her in during the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III championship game against Steinert on June 12 in Colts Neck. Colts Neck won 10-1.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Colts Neck High School starting pitcher Ava Metzger retires Steinert in order during the first inning of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III final on June 12 in Colts Neck. Metzger recorded 16 strikeouts in the victory.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Colts Neck High School right fielder Julianna Kowaleski smacks an RBI double to the gap in left-center during the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III championship game against Steinert on June 12 in Colts Neck. Kowaleski had two RBI for Colts Neck in the contest.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Colts Neck High School center fielder Cassidy Relay makes a leaping catch over the center-field fence during the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III championship game against Steinert on June 12 in Colts Neck. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

History was made with a capital “A” on June 12 in Colts Neck when the Colts Neck High School softball team rode a complete-game gem by senior pitcher Ava Metzger to a 10-1 victory over Steinert High School of Hamilton Township in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III state sectional tournament championship game.

Metzger threw six no-hit innings and finished the day by striking out the side in the seventh inning to become the first pitcher in program history to record more than 500 strikeouts as the 2021 Cougars (25-1) won the school’s first state sectional softball title.

“This is definitely the best start of my entire high school career,” Metzger said after the victory. “I knew I had to perform well for my team and I was determined to get that state title. Since we never had one, we needed to get one this season. It feels amazing.”

The game marked the sixth time in 2021 that Metzger recorded more than 15 strikeouts. She has 276 strikeouts for the season.

Metzger retired the first 15 batters she faced before walking the leadoff hitter in the top of the sixth. Steinert got its only hit in with one out in the seventh inning.

Metzger also contributed to the win with a two-run ground-rule double, giving her a team-high 42 hits and 35 RBI.

As one of four seniors who started their careers when the Cougars were coming off an 8-10 campaign, Metzger is proud of how far the team has come during the last four years.

It meant a lot to her to bring home a championship with fellow seniors Melissa Deissler, Annie Gabriel and Emily Cannizzaro. Their efforts have helped to put Colts Neck softball on the map as one of the top programs in the Shore Conference and in the state.

“I’m really happy we were able to do it for the seniors. To be able to end our high softball careers with a championship like this is amazing,” Metzger said.

The Cougars took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning when freshman Julianna Kowaleski singled with two out to score Deissler.

In the third, Colts Neck added four runs. Deissler began the rally with an infield single that scored a run and put the lead at 2-0. Sophomore Sasha Stone drove in two runs with a single to put the Cougars up 4-0.

“I wanted to make a big impact on the game and that’s what I did,” Stone said. “It felt amazing that I contributed to this win.”

Kowaleski capped the outburst with a two-out double that gave Colts Neck a 5-0 lead.

“It’s usually a lot on me with two out to get a hit, but it meant a lot to help get my team going and out to a big lead,” she said.

In the top of the sixth, Steinert scored on a wild pitch to pull within 5-1.

The Cougars responded with five runs in the bottom of the sixth to break the game open. Sophomore Cassidy Relay started the rally with a run-scoring single to make the score 6-1.

Two batters later, Metzger doubled in two runs for an 8-1 lead. Junior Kate Mager drove in a run with a single to make it 9-1 and scored Colts Neck’s final run on a wild pitch.

Leading 10-1, the scene was set for Metzger to make history for Colts Neck in the top of the seventh.

Although she lost her bid for a no-hitter on a one-out double by Bella Truelove, Metzger bounced back and struck out the next two hitters to record the 500th and 501st strikeouts of her career.

Reaching 500 career strikeouts was a goal Metzger pursued this season.

“I had to make sure I trusted my stuff. I got my 100th hit and my 500th strikeout. Now it’s time to make it to the Tournament of Champions,” she said.

The season will continue as Colts Neck will face Hammonton High School in the Group III state tournament semifinals on June 15. The winner will advance to the Group III title game.

Coach Anthony Iachello believes his players can continue to add to the program’s history books. He has seen the Cougars blossom into state sectional champions who will now pursue the overall Group III crown.

“I’m really happy for the seniors. I can’t change the culture myself. I needed people to help me and they did it. It’s awesome seeing a group of girls come together and be a family. They are 100% for each other,” Iachello said.