LINCROFT – Long-time Brookdale softball coach Bo Scannapieco is no stranger to the NJCAA DIII National Championship Tournament.
The three-time Hall of Famer and 2023 NJCAA DIII Region XIX Coach of the Year, who earlier this season celebrated his 1200th career win at Brookdale, has sent 24 teams to the national tournament in his 38 seasons as head coach, including 2002, 2005 and 2010 when they won it all and were crowned national champions.
After winning the NJCAA DIII Region XIX North Atlantic District tournament last season, Brookdale finished third in the national tournament as the fifth seed with an impressive win over No.3 seed North Dakota State College of Science and a tight 2-1 loss to No.1 seed and eventual national champion Rock Valley.
Brookdale (33-9), under Scannapeico’s tutelage, doesn’t shy away from scheduling upper division teams and it has obviously paid dividends. Of their nine losses this season, eight are against DII and DI teams. They are 16-8 against DII and DI teams and 17-1 versus DIII schools. Their only loss to a DIII team this season was to Gloucester when they split a double header winning 1-0 before taking 9-4 loss. Gloucester is the No.4 seed in this year’s tournament while the Blues are seeded third.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” said Scannapeico as he prepares his team for the tournament. “I think this little bit of rest allowed us to get healthy; we were a little dinged up with the number of games we played in a short time. It has given us an opportunity to work on some things that we’re going to need to do in the nationals to be successful and go as far as we can go.”
The good news for Brookdale entering this year’s tournament is that they have a wealth of players with tournament experience from a year ago.
Their one through four hitters in the batting order, centerfielder Alyssa Sigler, pitcher/second baseman Gianna Praet, shortstop Nicky Pavlik and third baseman Zoey Hagan are all back and putting together fantastic seasons. All four were 2022 All-Region XIX picks a year ago and will undoubtedly be selected again this season.
In all, with left fielder Maddy Parrish and right fielder Anna Marziano both back, Brookdale boasts six starters from last season’s tournament team that finished third and will be starting again for them in this year’s tournament, which begins this Wednesday, May 24, in DeWitt, New York.
“I think that’s going to help us a lot,” said Scannapieco of the experienced players on the team. “You always worry about the first game or two and they’ve been through that one time already so I suspect we will be okay with that with a lot of veterans on the team.”
Brookdale has the luxury of having two dominant pitchers in Praet and freshman Mallory Shevlin who Scannapeico feels really increases their chances of making a long run in the tournament. The two aces have combined to toss 18 shutouts this season.
“One of the things we got going for us is we have two really good pitchers,” said Scannapieco. “It’s going to help, especially the second game of the day. It’s going to really help as the tournament progresses.
“Gianna’s done really, really well for us two years in a row,” Scannapieco added. “She’s our team MVP for sure and we’ll lean on her. Mallory is really good too, so I have two good pitchers, 1 and 1A.”
A Freehold Boro graduate, Praet (17-4) has posted a miniscule 1.61 ERA in 126.1 innings pitched with 148 strikeouts and is averaging 8.20 K’s per seven innings. She picked up her 300th career strikeout earlier this season and is 6-0 in postseason competition which bolds well for the Blues.
Shevlin (Middletown North) is 15-5 with an ERA of 2.92. In 124 innings pitched she’s struck out a Region XIX high 174 batters and walked just 23.
When not pitching, they switch off at second base and handle the bat exceedingly well. Praet is averaging .346 with one home run, 26 RBI with 42 runs scored while Shevlin averages .418 with five home runs, 39 RBI and 38 runs scored.
“We are beyond excited,” said Praet about heading to the nationals. “We went last year, so to be able to go back-to-back years is amazing – we’re so excited. We have a bunch of returning sophomores that were there last year so we’re just ready to beat whoever.”
Scannapieco feels the pitching is the strength of the team and they’ll go as far as their pitchers will carry them.
“I think there’s pressure on everyone not just the pitchers, everyone wants to play well,” said Shevlin when asked if there’s any pressure on the pitchers entering the tournament. I have confidence in all my teammates - we’ve played well all season. We trust each other out there so as pitchers we know that our team has our backs.”
Sophomore Alyssa Sigler (.422, 57 H, 4 HR, 21 RBI, team leading 57 runs scored and 14 SB) leads off and plays centerfield for the Blues and Scannapieco says she’s the straw that stirs the drink.
“As Alyssa goes, we go,” said Scannapieco. “If she gets on and does her thing runs come a little easier. She’s had a nice year for us and has done a really good job in centerfield and she’s got speed and power too.”
Sigler thinks the experience from last year’s tournament will help this season.
“I’m very excited. Since we went last year, I think we have a pretty good chance this year,” said Sigler. “It was our first time there last year and since we’re going back I think the experience will make us more comfortable.”
Praet bats second and Pavlik bats in the number three hole. Pavlik leads the team in batting average (.433), HR (7), RBI (52). According to Scannapieco Pavlik has battled some injuries but has had another good year and has played really, really well for them.
“I’m so excited, can’t wait,” said Pavlik on the upcoming road trip. “We went last year and did amazing, so hopefully we can do even better this year. Definitely, since some of us have been in the situation before I think it will help us this time. I love this team and can’t wait to finish through with them.”
Hagan starts at third base and is the cleanup hitter for the Blues. She’s batting .407 with four HR, 42 RBI, team leading 17 2B and five 3B.
“Zoey’s had a lot of timely hits for us,” said Scannapieco. “Big homer and RBI person and led the team in extra base hits.”
“I hope a lot,” said Hagen when asked how much last years’ experience will help. “We kind of know what to expect, we know what the schedule is and we already know some of the teams we faced last year. So I think all that is good to know.”
Shevlin bats fifth in the lineup followed by catcher Sydney Rawlings in the No.6 spot. Rawlings, who’s hitting .417 with a home run and 34 RBI has done a phenomenal job behind plate and working with the pitchers.
“She is amazing,” said Praet of her catcher. “I don’t think I’ve seen a player block so many of my balls in my life. She works so hard back there; she hustles and is just really awesome.”
And Rawlings thinks just a highly of her ace, Praet. “Honestly, it’s a breeze, a pretty easy job. She hits her spots almost every pitch and makes my job pretty easy. Yea, both our pitchers do really, really well in the circle. I have a lot of trust in my pitchers. When I call the game we’re pretty much on the same page. They keep their composure well even if they don’t get a call or something like that and stay upbeat.”
In the seven spot, freshman Brittany Campbell (.312, 14 RBI,10 R) and sophomore Kelli Tuttle (.375, 8 RBI, 5 2B) platoon at first base depending on the situation and Scannapieco has gotten solid production out of them.
Sophomores Maddy Parrish (.280, 23 RBI, 17R, 5 2B, 3 3B) and Anna Marziano (.330, 17 RBI, 4 2B, 23 R) hit in the eight and nine spots respectively and lineup in left field and right field respectively. Both were starters in last year’s tournament run so their experience in invaluable.
“We’re expecting some very high competition, so we definitely need to play up to our standards,” said Parrish. I was very happy with our outcome last year and hopefully we can win it all this year.”
Brookdale will definitely be leaning on its two pitchers, but Scannapieco feels playing good defense will be the key.
“Our strength is obviously our two pitchers and I expect them to pitch well, they’ve pitched well all year,” said Scanapieco when asked what his team needs to do to be successful this week. “But the team that usually wins there (national tournament) is the team that plays the best defense. It took me a while to figure out what our best defense was, but now I think we have that settled. Most of the time you lose because somebody makes a bad play. We also got to be able to hit when we get an opportunity to score. Sometimes you may only get one or two opportunities to score the entire game, so you need to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Scannapieco credits his team’s third-place finish in last season’s championships to flawless defensive play and feels that effort needs to be repeated for Brookdale to make a long run in this year’s tournament.
“Last season at the nationals we played perfect defense, and we finished third,” said Hagen. “So, I’m hoping we can do the same this year and finish even higher.”
Brookdale opens up against sixth-seeded Joliet (33-21) this Wednesday, 5-24-23 in DeWitt, New York. First pitch is scheduled for 3:00 p.m.
Brookdale and Joliet have one common opponent this season, the County College of Morris. Joliet beat them 11-9 while Brookdale took two from them, 5-4 and 12-4.