Freehold Township softball coach praises players for successful season

Freehold Township High School softball players #10 Nikki Lusnia and #5 Amaya Marrero congratulate teammate Kristen Lee for hitting a home run during a game against Howell on May 12 in Freehold. Freehold Township recorded a 19-4 record this season.

The 2021 softball season had a chaotic start for the Freehold Township High School softball team. After one game, the Patriots had already dealt with two head coaching changes. Ultimately, Josh Mehl assumed the reins of the team.

The coaching changes did not affect the Patriots, who compiled a 19-4 record and won the Shore Conference A North Division crown.

“It’s a testament to the girls,” Mehl said this week. “They were very validating and bought into my philosophy. It was a situation where they were ready to go and I could help stir them to a championship.”

Mehl, who is also Freehold Township’s boys varsity soccer coach and bowling coach, said taking over the head coaching duties for the softball program was a “tall task” because he is a person who likes things organized heading into any sports season.

But the players welcomed Mehl and bought into his coaching philosophies. The Patriots won 14 of their first 15 games.

“They were all about what they could do to help the team compete for a championship,” Mehl said. “They were ready to grind every day to get better.”

The Patriots were led by junior pitcher Nikki Lusnia, who compiled 168 strikeouts and pitched to a 2.91 ERA during her first full season as a varsity starting pitcher.

At the plate, Freehold Township was led by Lila Williams and Dana Williams.

Lila drove in a team-high 26 runs and led the Patriots with four home runs. Dana led the team in hits (32) and runs scored (25).

Senior Amaya Marrero delivered 30 hits and 19 RBIs, while senior Kristen Lee hit two home runs and drove in 16 runs.

Dana Williams and freshman catcher Ashley Viesta each hit two home runs.

In post-season play, Freehold Township advanced to the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV state sectional tournament, but saw its sectional title hopes end with a 2-1 loss to South Brunswick.

In the Red Division bracket of the Monmouth County Tournament, the Patriots advanced to the championship game where they faced Colts Neck, which was one of the top teams in New Jersey in 2021.

An error in the bottom of the seventh inning led to the Cougars defeating Freehold Township, 2-1, to win the Red Division bracket.

The tough losses in the state and county tournaments will be a learning experience for the Patriots, said Mehl, who believes his returning players have the mindset and the talent to bounce back in 2022 and have another successful season.

“I am excited about next season,” Mehl said. “We have outstanding human beings and softball players coming back. We have a tremendous amount of talent at the junior varsity and freshman levels. We can be just as good or better next year.”

Mehl said his players taught him a lot during the season. He described the 2021 campaign as a “wonderful experience” and said the fun and success the Patriots enjoyed would not have been possible without the work ethic and love for the game the players showed all spring.

“These young ladies were so caring and compassionate,” he said. “This was really my first opportunity coaching young ladies. It was nice to have that experience.”