West Windsor, N.J. – This year’s softball team had commitment, talent and drive. By the end of the regular season, the Vikings were ranked 20th in NJCAA Division II softball and were the no. 1 seed going into the post season.
All of that was not enough to bring home the title this year at the Region 19 Tournament, hosted by the County College of Morris April 25-26.
“We had a key injury and some unlucky plays, but that does not take away from how hard working and talented this team was,” said Head Coach Ryan Zegarski, who completes his 11th year.
The Vikings entered the Region 19 Tournament without top pitcher Kaitlyn Cegielski, who was injured.
Sophomore pitcher Kiele Eichlin was ready for action, as the Vikings opened the tournament with a 5-3 win over no. 4-seeded Burlington County College to advance in the winners’ bracket.
Next they faced the no. 2 seed, Del Tech Owens. Eichlin started that game as well. (Over her two starts, she struck out eight players in nine innings.) In that contest, the Vikings hit the ball well, getting seven hits off the region’s top pitcher, but could not get the big hits when they needed to score. Then in the top of the crucial seventh inning, the Vikings allowed five runs. With that 7-1 loss to Del Tech, Region 19's eventual champ, Mercer moved into the losers’ bracket.
Facing elimination, the Vikings suffered an 8-6 loss to no. 3 Morris County. Morris had a big fourth inning, scoring seven runs (after one run in the top of the first). The Vikings then rallied from a 7-2 deficit in the bottom of the seventh to score four runs and load the bases before a deep fly ball ended the game. The Vikings ended their season with a 24-11 record.
Despite the unhappy results in the tournament, Zegarski remains unequivocally proud of his team’s fighting spirit. “I have no doubt that if our last hitter had gotten on base against Morris, we would have won that game. Both of our losses came down to one bad inning. We got some unlucky bounces and calls. But we never gave up,” he said.
Zegarski notes that sophomore Dana Knapp (Langhorne, PA/Neshaminy) had a season worthy of All-American consideration. Knapp was named the Garden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) Player of the Year and was named the Region 19 Player of the Year Runner-Up, losing the top honor to Del Tech Owen’s star pitcher Mykala Steele. Knapp was named to the All-Region First Team, along with freshman utility player Casey Murphy. Three other Viking players were named to the All-Region Second Team including freshman catcher Rachael Levach and sophomore pitchers Cegielski and Eichlin. Knapp, Murphy, Levach and Cegielski were also named to the All-GSAC First Team.
On the way to those honors, the Vikings compiled some truly impressive stats. Knapp ended her sophomore season with a .438 batting average, a .565 on base percentage and a .813 slugging percentage. Freshman catcher Levach batted over .400, with a .416 average on the season. Casey Murphy batted .327 and freshman Jennifer Walker (Levittown, PA/Neshaminy) came on strong towards the end after returning from an early season injury to bat .364.
Zegarski predicts that next year's squad will have a strong nucleus from which to build. Eight players are expected to return, led by All-Region freshmen Levach and Murphy. And Zegarski's gift for recruiting fresh talent right out of high school should make for solid Vikings season.
Zegarski was assisted this season by Danielle Brossoie.
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