The Bordentown softball team’s biggest win of the season—and arguably in the history of the program—came when it defeated Robbinsville to win its first NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II title. But perhaps the most impressive victory came one day later when it showed it wasn’t willing to just settle for a sectional crown, no matter how long it took to get one.
The Scotties could have suffered a serious letdown after defeating a Ravens team that had plagued them in the states through previous seasons. Or they could have looked past a Delran team that they had already beaten, 3-1, on April 16.
Instead, Bordentown stormed to a 14-0 lead after two innings en route to a 15-0 victory in the Group II semifinal.
“I think after winning the Robbinsville game it really pumped the girls up,” coach Nicole O’Leary said. “They know they’re a good team and they just had to come out and play their game every game. And they just continued to stay on that high note and on fire. They came out the next day continuing to do that.”
Senior third baseman Michaela Luyber said a letdown was never conceivable.
“After Robbinsville we were just like, ‘No Bordentown team has ever done this and made it this far, there’s no point in stopping now,’” Luyber said. “We just kept working as hard as we possibly could. I think after that win against Robbinsville it fueled us even more.”
That energy actually sparked the Scotties to a 1-0 lead in the state final at Kean University, when senior catcher Mackenza Goleniecki hit a second-inning homer against Ramsey. But the Rams tied it in the third and won on a walk-off single in the seventh as Bordentown’s first trip to the finals ended in heartbreak.
One thing was certain—the Scotties proved they belonged.
“It definitely is disappointing, you get so far and you know the girls played well and it just didn’t fall the way you wanted it to,” O’Leary said. “Ramsey was a good team as well. If we played them a bunch of times it would fall a different way each time. It was a matter of who gets that final push, Unfortunately they did. But I couldn’t ask for much more, (Bella) Pisapia pitched a great game, the girls hit well, both teams played defensively well, they just had that one extra hit that pushed them through.”
It hurt, but it didn’t take long for the team to respond in a positive manner.
“Right after that hit I think we all kind of felt that was the end of the world,” Luyber said. “A lot of us got really emotional after that, but by the time we got back on the bus and we were all reflecting back on the season, there was too much to be proud of to stay upset over that moment. That’s a moment we should be proud of along with all the other accomplishments, rather than dwell on it (negatively).”
Luyber was exactly right, as this season will go down as the greatest in program history. Bordentown entered the campaign on a run of state tournament frustration. Over the past five years the Scotties were 80-31. They were beaten once in the sectional quarterfinals, twice in the semifinals and lost twice to Robbinsville in the finals.
O’Leary was taking over the team full-time after serving as co-coach the previous years, and a strong nucleus was returning, including co-captains Luyber and Goleniecki, senior first baseman Annabella Marino, senior designated player Jenna Ryan, Pisapia and sophomore second baseman Hailey Cope. They were joined by a trio of freshman who all started—rightfielder Lina Marino, shortstop Brianna Fischer and leftfielder Sofia Peterson.
A new coaching staff included Kara Lynch, Rachel Gagliardo and Anastasia Salera.
“Coming into the season it was definitely exciting,” O’Leary said. “I was a little nervous, obviously, the first year where all the responsibility is mine. I knew I had a good group of girls coming back that I already established a good relationship with. It was just kind of seeing what new players were coming in and just meshing it all together.
“Fortunately we had a really good group of girls, and the new coaches that joined the program were really great as well. Everyone just kind of settled in together.”
Luyber said the team was confident, but the players went beyond what even they hoped for.
“We weren’t sure we were gonna be able to make this much noise,” she said. “I knew we were gonna definitely be successful with our season, but we were a lot more successful than I think anyone could have thought.”
That success was going to come from the tournament. Bordentown had already established itself as a crew that could win a lot of regular-season games, but still had to get over the hump.
And when they finally did, it wasn’t without some adversity in the sectional final.
The Scotties jumped to a 6-0 lead on Robbinsville before the skies opened in the bottom of the third. The game was suspended until the next day, leaving Bordentown still waiting and hoping.
“We had a lot of talks, saying we have to stay the same way, you can’t assume that we won the game,” Luyber said. “I think a lot of the girls felt good leaving that night but, we were all kind of nervous coming back the next day. It’s hard to get that lead and play the same way the next day, but it didn’t stop us.”
It sure didn’t. Pisapia threw three more scoreless innings and the Scotties scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth to end it on the mercy rule. In winning its first sectional, Bordentown also unseated the defending two-time champs.
“We had girls from previous Bordentown teams messaging us, wishing us luck,” Luyber said. “Everyone was watching that game. Winning it was a feeling like I never had before. We went out and put everything we had on the line, we played as hard as we possibly could and it gave us good results in the end.”
O’Leary could not have been prouder that the Ravens jinx had been lifted.
“It definitely has been a goal for a while, being that we’ve seen them in many of those final rounds over the last few years,” she said. “It’s always been a big mental game, we know they’re good, they know we’re good, they’ve just always had that finish. Definitely winning that was a huge excitement and success for the girls and the program.” It is a program that appears to be on solid ground, despite the loss of the four seniors. Luyber will play at Stockton, Goleniecki at Rowan College-Burlington County and Marino at Kean. Along with Ryan they combined for 96 hits, 19 doubles, 14 home runs and 91 RBI.
“They’re just four really great girls,” O’Leary said. “On the field they just perform really well, but off the field they’re great kids, they’re good students. They brought a lot of leadership and heart to this team and they will definitely be missed.”
Indeed they will. But Luyber is the first to point out that there is plenty of talent coming back, starting with Pisapia. The hurler was 13-5 with 192 strikeouts and hit .276 with 17 RBI.
“She’s definitely a natural leader on the field and off; not only with her talent but the way she handles herself and carries herself,” Luyber said. “She has so much talent, and she helps the other players as well. She’s not about herself even though she knows what she can do. She makes sure everyone’s in the game together. She’ll definitely be a lot of help to them next year.”
Fischer and Lina Marino both return after hitting over .400 and Cope hit .380. Both Luyber and O’Leary praised the freshmen for their immediate contributions.
“The three of them came in and not only helped offensively and defensively, but they molded and meshed with the team,” the coach said. “It made the whole team able to accomplish what they did.”
Luyber added, “I told them ‘You three came in and made such a difference in this program in just this one year. And believe it or not you probably still had a few nerves. It was your first year playing high school ball. So next year it’s gonna be a completely different game to you.’”
“And they have a few good players coming in as freshmen next year,” Luyber added. “The freshmen this year were able to fill in the spots we needed and those freshmen next year will be able to do the same filling in for us.”
The program is indeed on solid ground with all the work and success being achieved in the rec and middle school programs.
“When they start in middle school all the way to high school, it definitely builds and starts getting those few years of them working together,” O’Leary said. “They’re already kind of comfortable when they get to high school.”
They certainly looked it this year, as a good time was had by all.
“I never saw a group of girls click so easily and so fast with each other,” Luyber said. “We kind of knew from the jump this season would be fun. No matter where we made it to, we would have a good time.”
Turns out those good times rolled within a whisker of becoming a state champ in a Scotties season like no other.