TOMS RIVER – The rains cleared out in enough time for the fields at Toms River North to be prepped and ready for the Ocean County Tournament softball championship game between sixth-seeded Brick Memorial and eighth-seeded Toms River South. While the cold damp air was more like a fall Friday night football game, the mood in both dugouts was full of energy and excitement as both teams came in riding momentum.
The Mustangs entered the game with a 13-3 overall record that included tournament wins over 11th-seeded Toms River East, 20-0; third-seeded Southern Regional, 3-1; and second-seeded Central Regional, 2-0. The Indians entered with a 9-9 overall record with tournament wins over ninth-seeded Barnegat, 6-1; top-seeded Lacey, 4-2; and fourth-seeded Jackson Liberty, 6-4. Brick Memorial came in holding the season series over the Indians defeating Toms River South, 8-2, in April and 6-0, last week.
As was the case last season entering the tournament, Brick Memorial felt disrespected in their draw despite their success. Last season the Mustangs made it to the final before falling to Lacey, 6-2. Brick Memorial head coach Christina Rodriguez kept the trophy face down in a locker and recently brought it out to show her team the trophy with a message that this isn’t the one we want to bring home this year.
“I wanted them to remember last year was within our reach and how close we came. I used that to get them excited about this year and just giving them a little gut shot,” said Rodriguez about the message she wanted to send to the team.
At stake was the coveted Ocean County Tournament title. The first several innings were a chess match of superb pitching and little offensive production. Brick Memorial threw their ace, Jenna Pfister, who entered the game riding a superb tournament scorecard that showed just six hits and one earned run. Toms River South countered with Chloe Seluchins.
Brick Memorial was first to get on the scoreboard in the bottom of the third when Kiara Richards powered her first homerun of the day over the right centerfield fence to give Brick Memorial a 1-0 lead.
Brick Memorial added another run in the bottom of the fourth inning when Ava Rendon hit a sacrifice fly to score freshman Ella Moore from third, making the score 2-0.
Toms River South had bases loaded in the fifth, chasing Pfister from the circle. Richards came on in relief and got out of the inning with minimal damage, as South scored just one run, on a throwing error.
Brick Memorial answered quickly in the bottom of the fifth when Richards hit her second homer of the game, a two-run blast with Samantha Toro aboard, making it 4-1. Seluchkins was replaced in the circle by Indians pitcher Olivia Byrnes, who came in and retired the side.
Richards faced little threat from the Indians in the top of the sixth, throwing just 11 pitches.
The Mustangs would blow the game wide open in the bottom of the sixth, all with two outs. After a bunt single from Rendon and a stolen base, Toro advanced her to third on a ground out for the second out. The Indians wanted no more trouble from Richards and intentionally walked her to set up runners at first and third. Pfister drove in Rendon for the Mustangs’ fifth run of the game. Carleigh Luzzo walked to load the bases for Moore, who delivered the final blow with a bases-clearing double to left center to put the Mustangs up, 8-1. Moore scored on a fielding error to give Brick Memorial a 9-1 lead, which would hold up through the final frame.
Pfister picked up the win, allowing just the one unearned run in four and a third innings.
Moore’s performance was impressive, even to her coach. “Coming into the season we have heard about how solid a player she is and her bat, it’s a pleasure to watch her grow and contribute for us all season long in big spots,” said Rodriguez.
Richards earned tournament MVP honors after going 3-for-3 (two homers, 3RBI, 2.1 IP, 0 earned runs). “At the plate I felt comfortable and took what they gave me, it feels great to be able to do that for my teammates, we really wanted revenge from last year. It feels great to get this win and be a part of this team,” Richards said.
Rodriguez knows how fortunate she is to have two ace pitchers to turn to. “It gives me so much confidence in putting either one out there; it provides such a luxury,” she said.
“Kiara is known for a big bat and this tops what she’s done this season. It was a big pressure situation and she did amazing,” Rodriguez concluded.