Patriots eye championship success during 2022 softball campaign

Freehold Township High school starting pitcher Nikki Lusnia fires a strike to the plate during a game against Middletown North on April 16 in Middletown. Middletown North defeated Freehold Township 6-4.

During the 2021 softball season, the Freehold Township High School Patriots went 19-4  and won the Shore Conference A North Division championship.

Freehold Township’s new head coach, Johnny Sciarappa, saw the Patriots’ success a year ago as he was serving as an assistant softball coach at Howell High School.

Sciarappa knew about the talented players he would have a chance to work with when took the reins of the Patriots in 2022.

Seniors Nikki Lusnia, Dana Williams and Lila Williams were returning and Sciarappa knew that with other skilled players back on the roster, the Patriots were set up for success this spring.

“I put the weight on myself because I knew (the Patriots) had these expectations and I’m the new ingredient,” the coach said. “Being an opponent (at Howell), I knew their strengths and I have worked on things they can improve on. I am trying to give them the best experience I can.”

Freehold Township is 2-3 after five games and was scheduled to face Howell on April 18.

On April 4, the Patriots defeated Manalapan, 15-3, for their first victory. Senior shortstop Lila Williams was 3-3 with a walk, a home run and five RBIs.

Junior first baseman Olivia Smith added three hits, including a home run and three RBIs.

On April 14, the Patriots faced Marlboro. Freehold Township rallied from a 12-5 deficit and scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to lock up a 14-12 victory.

Sophomore third baseman Jiana Maniscalco hit a game-winning two-run home run to complete the comeback and help Freehold Township win its second game of the season.

“It was a great comeback victory,” Sciarappa said of the team’s win against Marlboro.

Freehold Township’s victory over Marlboro was one of three games the Patriots played that were decided by two runs or less.

The Patriots watched Middletown South rally for two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to score a 6-5 win on April 12.

After their comeback victory against Marlboro, the Patriots almost had another come-from-behind win when they faced Middletown North on April 16.

A sacrifice fly by Victoria Simons helped Freehold Township tie the game 1-1 in the fifth inning. The Patriots added three runs in the sixth inning to take a 4-1 lead.

The Patriots’ rally started with a two-out RBI double by sophomore Ashley Viesta and ended as Lusina delivered her third hit; a double that drove in the final run of the inning.

Lusina is hitting over .700 with four RBIs in the early going.

“She has a great bat and can hit to all fields,” Sciarappa said of Lusina. “She is a great weapon all the way around.”

However, the Patriots’ three-run lead was not safe as Middletown North rallied in the bottom of the sixth.

A two-out solo home run by Maya Yesalonis began a five-run frame for the Lions. The next three batters reached base before Mallory Shevlin smacked the first pitch she saw over the fence for a grand slam to lift the Lions to a 6-4 victory.

All three of Freehold Township’s losses have come by two runs or less. The Patriots lost their season opener to Jackson Memorial, 6-4, on April 2.

Results aside, Sciarappa said he thought it was great for his team to experience playing in these types of games against some of the best teams in the Shore Conference.

“These were great games for the kids,” the coach said. “They were four intense battles. All three of our losses have come in the last at bat. We just were unlucky in those losses.”

Sciarappa is hoping the challenges the team has faced in the first few weeks of the season will help the Patriots get going when the Monmouth County Tournament begins this week. Freehold Township is scheduled to play Saint John Vianney in the tournament quarterfinals on April 23.