The South Hunterdon softball team could take its season from “good” to “great” in about 28 hours.
On Wednesday, the No. 3 seed Eagles hosted conference rival No. 14 Bound Brook in the Central Jersey Group 1 Sectional Tournament (results were unavailable at press time). South Hunterdon swept the Crusaders 10-0 and 13-10 in their two regular season meetings.
The next day, the Eagles (12-6, 10-3 conference) travel to Watchung for their regular season finale against Mount St. Mary. A win – and South Hunterdon beat the Lions on April 8 behind Alana Catanzareti’s homer and triple – gives the Eagles a share of the Skyland Mountain division title.
The 2012 Eagles were co-Mountain champions. The program took a step back in 2013 but has been ascending ever since. A win this week would mark the sixth straight year that the Eagles improved on their prior season’s victory total.
“We try to keep things as consistent as possible,” said skipper Megan Cegielski. “Our focus, since I took over the program, has always been on the basics and fundamentals of things. Each year, the girls get a little better at it and focus a little more on it.
“It carries over from year to year. Having a solid base of returning players has also contributed a great deal,” Cegielski concluded.
Kayla Kilmer’s nine extra base hits and 21 RBIs lead the team. Table setters Skyler Badessa and Katelyn Carrier have on base percentages over .500.
South Hunterdon roared out of the gate, winning nine of its first 10 games. It ran the table its first time through the Mountain division, and beat Newton 4-3 in the second round of the Hunterdon/Sussex/Warren County tournament.
“I definitely think the biggest achievement for the girls was their showing in the county tournament,” Cegielski offered. “We were the fourth seed, so we got a bye, which I don’t even know the last time that happened for South. We came back to beat a bigger school and won in the bottom of the seventh.
“We lost in the quarterfinals to Pope John,” Cegielski continued.
“People expected Pope John to come in and destroy us. They didn’t. We kept it a 1-1 game until two outs in the seventh inning. I was very proud of them. We usually go one and done in counties so this was a huge achievement for them.”
Some nights, the Eagles don’t have a single senior in their starting lineup. While the Eagles have cooled off slightly, they won two of three last week. Nicole Costantini drove in three in an 11-1 rout of divisional foe Warren Tech on May 7. Kilmer’s homer was all the scoring South Hunterdon needed as Carrier shut out New Hope-Solebury 6-0 three nights later.
Kilmer has been the staff ace this season, but Carrier’s emergence gives Cegielski depth and options at pitcher.
“Being able to give Kayla rest when needed is nice to be able to do,” Cegielski stated. “What we focus on with all of our pitchers is: don’t worry about letting the girls hit it. If they hit it, they hit it. That’s what your defense is for. But throw strikes. We can’t walk as many people as we had in past years. This year, we haven’t.”
Cegielski was pleased with Carrier’s change-up, a pitch that Kilmer has also gained confidence throwing.
“We’ve had a battle with the mental side of the game and talking ourselves into having the success that we’ve had this year,” Cegielski stated. “I hope that they continue that as we enter the state tournament this week.”