Jersey Shore a surprise District 4 softball champ

Chris Glenn didn’t get much sleep Thursday night. A nine-inning affair in the District 4 AAA semifinals made it a quick turnaround for the Jersey Shore softball coach, who has to be up at 4 a.m. to go to work.

Following Jersey Shore’s win Friday afternoon in the district title game over Milton, Glenn admitted he was tired, but he was too excited to let it show. The Bulldogs, after a one-year hiatus, won the district’s AAA title over Milton, 7-2. Jersey Shore plays returning state runner-up Valley View in the first round of the PIAA tournament Monday at Marywood University at 4:30 p.m.

Jersey Shore won the tournament as the fourth seed, and the title came during a season in which the Bulldogs started just 1-4. As unexpected as this district title may have been from the outside, it was something Glenn and his players knew was possible despite the struggles.

But the Jersey Shore team which posed for photos with the district championship plaque Friday afternoon at Elm Park was vastly different than the team which started 1-4. This is a team with a legitimate threat in the circle in sophomore Rebecca Caputo (7 IP, 5 hits, 2 runs). This is a team which is as dangerous with its 7-8-9 hitters (3 for 7, three RBIs) as it is with its 3-4-5 hitters (5 for 11, two RBIs).

“As the season has gone on, we’ve just gotten so much better,” Jersey Shore’s Jess Allen said.

“I’m very excited going into states. Our defense is really playing well and we’re going to try to ride this as far as we can,” Glenn said. “Bottom of the lineup, top of the lineup, someone is going to get it done. Our defense has not been playing any better ball than it is right now. We’re playing loose, we’re playing relaxed and they’re having fun.”

And then there’s the ace in the hole Caputo has become. The sophomore is no longer a well-kept-secret. A night after out-dueling four-year starter Ally Lloyd of Mifflinburg for nine innings, Caputo was back on top of her game less than 24 hours later.

She allowed Milton just five baserunners. She allowed Milton just one at-bat with runners in scoring position. She faced four batters or less in six of seven innings.

And on a day where Caputo recorded just one strikeout, her defense behind her was flawless.

“She’s gotten so much more comfortable with us,” Allen said. “She’s starting to trust us more. She knows we’re there for her.”

“I caught her before in all-stars and the movement on her ball has just gotten better and better as she’s gotten older,” Jersey Shore catcher Bryce Hillyard said. “I felt like she was a little nervous at the beginning of the season, but she’s grown to become like a senior pitcher. It’s not that she ever lacked confidence, it just seems there’s so much more of it now.”

Everything which transpired on Friday afternoon put Jersey Shore on display as a team peaking at the right time, a team clicking on all cylinders when the games matter most. Friday was pretty much like a state playoff game when you consider Milton was playing in its eighth consecutive district final.

The Bulldogs took an early lead thanks to a clutch two-out single from Bloomsburg University-bound Holly Peacock to score Allen. It added two more thanks to the first of two sacrifice flies from eight-hole hitter Kristyn Harstead, and an RBI single from Allen.

And when Milton closed in on Shore’s eventual 4-0 lead with a two-run single from nine-hole hitter Peyton Phillips, there was no panic. Caputo responded to giving up her first runs of the postseason with a six-pitch sixth inning, and an 11-pitch seventh inning to close the door on Jersey Shore’s first district title since 2011.

“She could have easily panicked, but she didn’t. She stayed focused and kept it there,” Glenn said. “The thing about her is she has a bad inning, but she comes back strong. She doesn’t let emotions get the best of her. A pitcher has to have a short memory and she really does.”

The Phillips two-run single cut the Jersey Shore lead in half in the fifth inning, but the Bulldogs scored three huge insurance runs in the top of the seventh to all but end the game. It was a championship kind of rally for Jersey Shore which started with four consecutive hits, including an RBI double from Hillyard and an RBI single from Caputo.

The four consecutive hits forced Milton starter Taylor Batman from the game, but Jersey Shore added one more run on Harstead’s second sacrifice fly for a 7-2 lead.

“We started off popping up stuff, but then we adjusted. That’s what good teams do,” said Glenn of an offense which pounded out 12 hits. “I thought they did a great job of adjusting. The seventh inning we made all we could out of it and I think it took the wind out of their sails.”

Jersey Shore001 210 3 – 7 12 0

Milton000 020 0 – 1 5 2

Rebecca Caputo and Lidia Yorks, Bryce Hillyard (2). Taylor Batman, Danny Lincoln (7) and Mac Miller. W-Caputo. L-Batman.

Top Jersey Shore hitters: Averie Lorson, 1-4, run; Holly Peacock, 2-4, RBI, run; Bryce Hillyard, 2-4, double, RBI; Hannah Yost, 1-3, 2 runs; Rebecca Caputo, 3-4, RBI; Kristyn Harstead, 2 RBIs; Jess Allen, 3-4, RBI, run. Top Milton hitters: Danny Lincoln, 1-3; Linea Brouse, 1-3; Bethany Brennan, 1-3, run; Kiah Brink, 1-3, run; Peyton Phillips, 1-2, 2 RBIs.

Pitchers’ lines: Jersey Shore, Rebecca Caputo – 7 IP, 5 hits, 2 runs, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K. Milton, Taylor Batman – 6 IP, 11 hits, 7 runs, 6 ER, 1 BB, 2 Ks; Danny Lincoln – 1 IP, 1 hit, 0 runs, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K.

With runners in scoring position: Jersey Shore 5-17; Milton 1-1.

Runners left on base-in scoring position: Jersey Shore 8-7; Milton, 3-0.

Pitches-strikes: Jersey Shore, Rebecca Caputo 83-57. Milton, Taylor Batman 84-58; Danny Lincoln 9-5.

Batters faced-first pitch strikes: Jersey Shore, Rebecca Caputo 26-12. Milton, Taylor Batman 33-21; Danny Lincoln 4-1.