With GSAC crown in hand, Region’s next

first_img BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer When you’ve won your conference title four straight years, and nine of the last 10, it’s easy to take a championship for granted. But don’t tell that to Bo Scannapieco and the Brookdale Community College women’s softball team. Yes, they won the Garden State Athletic Conference championship for the fourth year in a row, but it was hardly a forgone conclusion. “This one was one of the toughest,” Scannapieco said. “What made it really rewarding is that at times we struggled. “We had more ‘had to win’ games this year than in the past,” he added. “We accomplished what we set out to do at this point.” The next point is the Region XIX Tournament that began last weekend. As the GSAC champions and No. 1 seed, Brookdale had a bye and begins defense of its Region title Friday at Gloucester Community College in Camden. Brookdale wrapped up its ninth GSAC crown in the last 10 years on April 27 when the Blues swept a double-header in Randolph from Morris behind the pitching of Cherise Maltais and Elyse Papaianni, 9-0 and 12-1. In the first game, Maltais tossed her ninth shutout of the season (tying Papaianni for team-high honors) on a two-hitter. She fanned seven and walked just one as her record advanced to 13-4. A seven-run sixth inning broke this game open. A two-RBI triple off the bat of Leah Minnick sparked the seven-run outburst that extended Brookdale’s 2-0 lead to 9-0. Amanda Meatto was 2-for-4 and scored twice. In the nightcap, Papaianni improved to 17-2, throwing a three-hitter. Christine Lewis was 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles. She drove in three runs. Minnick was 4-for-4 with three RBIs. For the day, Minnick was 6-for-8 with a double, triple and five RBIs. The pitching gems, along with the 21 runs scored, were further testaments to Brookdale’s balance this spring. The Blues have been clicking on all cylinders. “For teams to be good every phase has to work,” noted Scannapieco. And Brookdale is that good. The pitching has been there all year with Papaianni and Maltais throwing one sparkling game after another. They’ve combined for 30 wins and 18 shutouts. Papaianni has an earned run average of 0.675, which ranks her third in the country, and Maltais is ninth (1.141). Scannapieco has not been surprised by the success they’ve enjoyed. “I’ve watched them grow and mature into college pitchers,” he pointed out. “They’ve been very consistent. What they’ve shown from day one is that they can find a way to get outs when they don’t have their ‘A’ stuff.” When Scannapieco has chosen to give one a rest, Meatto has been more than adequate. She’s 6-0 with a 1.089 ERA. What Scannapieco likes the most about his pitching rotation on the eve of the Region tournament is that it is battle tested. Because the Blues did not run away and hide from everyone this year, Papaianni and Maltais pitched in a lot of must-win games. They may both be freshmen, but they’ve proven to their coach that they can come up with the goods when it is needed.The defense has been supporting the pitching staff all year. Although there have been some lapses in the last week, Scannapieco is confident that once the players get some time off to recharge their batteries prior to the Region tournament, the defense will be as sure-handed as ever. Offensively, the Blues have been turning little things into big run production. “There has been some inconsistency, but we scored when we had to,” Scannapieco said. “We’re bunting more than we have and we’re moving people up,” he added. When the runners have been in scoring position, Minnick has come through more often than not. She leads the nation by lights years in RBIs with 74. She is the co-leader in home runs with five and is batting .438. Deidre Trujilo (53 runs scored, .405 average), Nicole Carrol (40 runs, 20 RBIs, .315), Minnick and Meatto (64 hits, .436) have also been stellar at the plate. Others who have had an impact include Lewis (28 RBIs, .371), Maltais (.391) and Heather Meyers (21 RBIs). What was most impressive about Brookdale’s drive to the GSAC title was the schedule. Because of early-season rainouts, the Blues went through a stretch of play with 21 games in 11 consecutive days. They went 19-2 through that difficult stretch, wrapping up the conference title in the process. “It’s the toughest stretch we’ve had here,” Scannapieco said. “You’ve got to give credit to the players, they came through. It was pretty incredible.” One of those wins was a 2-0 victory over the nation’s No. 1 team, Anne Arundel, in Lincroft on April 25. “That’s the kind of game you have to win along the way in a tournament,” Scannapieco said. “You have to give yourself a chance to win. Elyse pitched a brilliant game and we hit the ball hard. We didn’t get a lot out of it, but we swung the bats well. They made some good plays on defense.” With that win at home, Brookdale moved up to No. 2 in the national rankings behind the College of DuPaige (Ill.). Host Gloucester (23-12) is the No. 2 seed for this weekend’s tournament (Friday and Saturday). According to Scannapieco, the Region keeps getting better each year. “The Region is more balanced this year,” Scannapieco said. Sussex (25-8), Gloucester, Ocean, Middlesex and Camden are all capable of winning games and leaving Gloucester with the title if things go their way. Gloucester remains Scannapieco’s biggest concern. First, the Roadrunners are home, and secondly, the Roadrunners have the memory of having lost to the Jersey Blues the last two years and five times since 1996 fresh in their minds. They would like to extract some revenge at home this weekend, where the Blues are not very popular. On top of that, the Roadrunners are a pretty good team. “Gloucester is more of a sophomore team,” Scannapieco said. “They have tougher at-bats than the other teams. They are hard to strike out. They put the ball in play and make you play defense.” Because the Region tournament was on the road this year, Scannapieco covered all bases. “Playing on the road makes it more difficult,” he explained. “I wanted to get tough road games to get us ready. I think we’re getting better. We’re maturing.” Could the win over then No. 1 Anne Arundel be a sign that the Blues could win a national title this year? “You never know,” said Scannapieco, who led Brookdale to the national championship in 2002. “You always have to give yourself a chance. “If we can come through the Region we’ll certainly be a threat,” he added. “It’s [Region XIX] certainly a good test.” The Region XIX champion advances to the junior college national championships May 20-22 in Joliet, Ill. 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