Sophomore Mia Robb took care of business on the mound and Sophia Berger led a 12-hit attack as Ridge defeated Scotch Plains-Fanwood, 10-3, in an NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 first round softball game at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Ridge (14-6), the No. 3 seed, advances to the sectional quarterfinals where it will oppose sixth-seeded Philipsburg, a 10-0 winner over Plainfield. Ridge split its season series in the Skyland Conference with the Stateliners.
Robb permitted three runs, none of which was earned, on seven hits. She struck out six and walked just one as Ridge won for the ninth time in its last 10 games and for the 11th time in its last 13 games. Scotch Plains, the No. 14 seed, fell to 8-15.
Berger (3-for-4), Ridge’s No. 3 hitter, tripled in her first at bat, singled in the middle of a five-run rally in the third inning and singled again in the fourth. “Sophia’s been on a tear all season,” said Ridge’s third-year coach Jackie Tarulli. “She’s one of four or five girls hitting over .400 for us.”
Ridge, which defeated Scotch Plains, 11-1, in a regular season contest on May 3, fell behind in this one, 1-0. Sophia Lerner led off second inning with a shot to left-center that went for two bases. Lerner moved to third on a fielder’s choice grounder and scored on Grace Kennedy’s grounder to shortstop.
Ridge stranded three runners in the first two innings but erupted for five runs in the third on three hits, a walk and two Scotch Plains errors.
Robb started it with a one out walk, moved to second on Berger’s single and scored the tying run on a throwing error. Alexis Soulias singled home a run with one out before Lauren Lusardi hit a shot down the right field line. The ball took an awkward bounce on the turf and bounded past the right fielder as both base runners scored. Lusardi charged all the way home, too, before the relay got to the plate.
Allegra Decandia drew a bases-loaded walk in the fourth to extend the Ridge lead to 6-1 before Julia Solsky singled home Kennedy in the fifth to draw Scotch Plains to within 6-2. Kennedy had reached on a throwing error. The lead ballooned to 10-2 as Ridge struck for two runs in the fifth and two in the sixth.
Robb singled home one of the runs in the fifth and Emma Mertz singled in a run in the sixth for Ridge.
Robb used a healthy mix of pitches – fastball, screwball, changeup, curveball, riser and drop – to keep Scotch Plains at bay. “I’ve been working on evening out my drop to get a little more lateral or horizontal movement,” said Robb. “They don’t all work all the time, but if a couple of them are going well I can get through.”
None of those pitches caused much consternation, considering Robb issued her only walk with two outs in the sixth inning. Control was never an issue as she had few deep counts to work with.
“My walks are down this year,” said Robb. “That’s just me growing as a pitcher. When I do issue walks it’s usually me just missing the zone by a little bit.” Her aggressive strike throwing can also be attributed to a confidence in her teammates’ defense. “They allow me to take risks,” she says.
“We tell them defense wins championships,” says Tarulli.
Winning championships has not been synonymous with Ridge softball over the years but Tarulli has brought a winning attitude to the Basking Ridge school. Ridge reached the Somerset County Tournament championship game last week for the first time ever. It fell to Hillsborough, 8-1, but the message is Ridge is no longer a bystander in big games. The Red Devils finished above .500 in 2018 for the first time since 2002.
An early season four-game losing streak did not derail the Red Devils, who’ve shown the chemistry on this team is strong and resilient.
“We hit that little bump,” says Robb. “We’re weren’t all on the same page at that point but we’ve all worked together as a team since.”
The three other Skyland Conference teams remain, along with Ridge, on the bottom half of the Section 2, Group 4 bracket; Phillipsburg, North Hunterdon and Bridgewater-Raritan. The NJSIAA Group 4 tournament continues to go through the Skyland Conference. At least one Skyland Conference team has reached the Group 4 final in each of the past eight seasons, winning four of them. Another Skyland Conference team, Hunterdon Central (18-1), is the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey, Group 4.
NOTE: That imposing batter in the photo at the top of this page is Sophia Berger of Ridge.