first_imgBy WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent One of the youngest high school softball teams in the Shore was also one of the most successful.With pitcher Erin Powers and right fielder Shannon Sansone as the only seniors in a lineup laden with sophomores, Matawan Regional High School went from a 14-13 record and early exits in tournaments a year ago to 21-8 this spring while reaching two tournament championship games and the semifinals of the other.“We expected improvement and were hoping for 15 to 16 wins,” head coach Bob Dubina said. “We exceeded my expectations, but we return so much next year.”Dubina knows what he is speaking about. He turned Allentown High School into a perennial contender in NJSIAA Group III before moving over to Matawan last season. And he also coached Brookdale Community College’s women’s basketball team, which finished 19-9 and reached the Region XIX tournament semifinals last winter.Matawan earned its most softball victories since 2005 when it won 23 games and the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II title.It reached the sectional finals again this year on May 29, losing to Robbinsville High School, 3-2, in 10 innings. A year earlier, Robbinsville also knocked the Huskies out of the states in the earlier rounds, 6-0.The following day Matawan lost, 11-0, to Middletown High School South in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals.“We had nothing left,” Dubina said.Sophomore shortstop Lauren Conroy hyper-extended her elbow in the Robbinsville game and sat out the game against Middletown South. The No. 3 hitter in the lineup, Conroy led the Huskies with 12 home runs and 31 RBIs while batting .550.Matawan also reached the Monmouth County Tournament finals, losing to St. John Vianney High School, 2-0, May 16.“That game turned around our season,” Dubina said. “It gave us a ton of confidence that we can play with anybody.”Matawan won the next four games leading up to the Robbinsville state tournament game. Powers said after she felt it from the start — a season-opening 11-1 victory over Red Bank Catholic High School.“If someone told me before the season we’d do well, I probably would’ve believed that person,” Powers said. “We had a lot of returning girls who worked hard and really wanted to win. But after beating Red Bank Catholic, we really stepped it up.”The Huskies also were cochampions in the Shore Conference B North Division with Wall High School — a team it split its two games with during the season. Both were 11-3 in the division.Matawan also won state tournament games over Delran High School, 3-1, in which no Husky batter struck out, and No. 1-seed Arthur L. Johnson High School, 2-0, in an upset as Powers helped her own cause on the mound by smashing a runscoring single.The team finished strongly despite a key injury. Junior center fielder Sam Buchman, who batted in the .300s with a .500 on-base percentage hitting leadoff, missed the final three weeks of the season with a high ankle sprain. Junior Tracey Brereton went from catcher to the vacated center field spot, and freshman Amanda Hunter came off the bench to start at catcher. Dubina praised Brereton’s willingness to fill a need at a different position.Bolstered by the success of this season, Dubina said he is looking to upgrade his schedule further for 2016.“At Allentown, it helped us preparing for the state tournament,” he said.First, he must settle on his pitching, as Powers is headed to a college career at Felician College. She utilized five pitches that included a fastball Dubina said reached around 60 mph. Powers said she went with a drop curve and screwball a lot.Jess Veary, a sophomore who did not play a year ago because of a knee injury, is a leading candidate to move from first base to the mound.“She’s not overpowering but keeps the ball low. I hope she can pick up some speed,” Dubina said. Sophomore Meaghan Rutsch is another candidate. Veary also was a timely hitter. Cleanup hitter Hadassah Curry, who plays third base, and Veary smashed run-scoring hits in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively, to force the extra innings against Robbinsville, a team Dubina was familiar with from his days coaching at Allentown. Matawan had its chances, leaving the bases loaded in the ninth inning and stranding two runners in scoring position with none out in the third inning. Dubina believed pitching and hitting were the main ingredients to this season’s success, while the defense had its ups and downs but performed very well at times. He figures the many returning players will work on that more in the offseason. Powers believed the defense helped her to a lot of victories, however. “Our defense held us together because I’m not a strikeout pitcher, so I let the other team hit the ball, and the girls in the field had my back all the time,” Powers said.Soph Jen Lloyd at second base and junior left fielder Sami Boyne completed the lineup. Utility players Taylor Murphy and Maddie Malanga also contributed.“These girls put Matawan back on the map,” Dubina said. “Hopefully people will talk about it, and we’ll get the support from the Little League [softball] program.”“I think they have a lot of potential,” Powers said of her team’s future. “As long as they play defense, they’ll have no problem.”Dubina said the success also is shared by his coaching staff that includes new varsity assistant Maria Antista, who was the head coach at Matawan a few years ago and played on the 2005 team. Allie Murature, another assistant, played on Middletown South’s two Group III state championship teams in 2009 and 2010 and then played on a Brookdale Community College team that reached the Junior College World Series. Theresa Principe, who worked with Powers and the other pitchers, was a college pitcher after playing for Red Bank Catholic.last_img

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