The 2019 softball season will go down in the records books at Hightstown High School.
This spring has been a memorable one when Hightstown won the softball program’s first New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association group championship and advanced to the semifinal round of the Tournament of Champions.
First, Hightstown captured the Group 4 state championship when it defeated Mount Olive Township High School, 9-4, in the title game that was played on June 1 at Kean University in Union.
The victory sent Hightstown to the state Tournament of Champions.
In the opening round of the Tournament of Champions, sixth-seeded Hightstown defeated the Group 3 state champion, third-seeded Middletown High School North, 4-2, on June 4 at Ivy Hill Park, which is located at Seton Hall University in South Orange.
The dramatic T of C victory over Middletown North was sparked by freshman catcher Abby Bell, who slugged a grand slam in the top of the ninth inning to snap a scoreless tie.
The Rams advanced to play second-seeded Cedar Grove High School, the Group 1 state champion, in the T of C semifinals on June 5 at Seton Hall University.
In the semifinals, Hightstown’s storied season came to a close with a 3-0 defeat to Cedar Grove. The Rams were held to two hits against one of New Jersey’s premier pitchers, senior Mia Faieta, who is heading to St. John’s University. Hightstown’s hits came from Bell and fellow freshman Sydney Busa.
Cedar Grove will play in the Tournament of Champions final at Seton Hall on June 7 against top-seeded Donovan Catholic High School of Toms River, the Non-Public A state champion. Donovan Catholic advanced in the other semifinal on June 5 to the T of C title game with a 6-1 victory over fifth-seeded Immaculate Conception High School of Lodi, the Non-Public B state winner.
The Rams finished with a 26-5, which set a school record for victories in a season. The Central Jersey, Group 4 title was the program’s first state sectional championship since 1976. Hightstown defeated Montgomery High School, 3-2, in the state sectional final.
“This is about the girls and the school. We wanted to do something for the first time ever. They worked hard. I told the girls on the bus I want 10 on the board and they gave me nine. They gave me everything I asked for at all times and they deserve this and so does the school,” said Hightstown coach Pete Lestician.
He said that the team knew if they played their game they would be successful.
“We knew they did not have enough power, but they had the small ball. We knew if we played defense things would come through eventually. Offensively we clicked because we made adjustments,” Lestician said.
He also said at the beginning of the season he thought the team was a year away from being able to win the title.
Hightstown achieved the success with four freshmen and three sophomores in the starting lineup.
“I want them to leave her knowing that if they play softball the right way good things will happen,” Lestician said.
Fighting through an infection, junior right-hand pitcher Allie Bridgman helped the team secure the victory in the Group 4 final by taking command. She pitched all seven innings and struck out 10.
“My team has been able to make plays all year. We rely on our Ram defense. The fact that I can go out there and throw a ball and if it gets hit know our defense can make plays behind me is just great to have,” she said. “That is exactly how we won this game.”
Bridgman said starting this year she did not know the team would make this type of run.
“Coming into this year I knew that we were going to be great. I knew that we were going to have a great season, but I had no idea we would make it this far,” she said. “This is just unbelievable and I am proud to represent our team and school in this way.”
Not only did Bridgman hold the Mount Olive offense at bay, she also contributed in scoring by driving in three runs.
After Mount Olive had struck first with a run at the top of the third inning, Hightstown responded back in the bottom of the fourth by scoring four runs.
Two of those four runs came from a double by senior Morgan Fleisher.
“This is the best feeling ever. I could never have imagined to get here like this. Today goes to show that even though we are a little team we fight big,” she said. “We are more capable of putting up runs on the board.”
Bell also conrtibuted to the victory by driving home three runs, two off of a home run in the bottom of the sixth.
“This is my first year in high school and it is so good to be a part of a history making achievement for the high school. This sets a high goal for our program,” Bell said.
She said the team knew what they had to do to get the victory.
“I had a very high expectation for this team, because even though we are young we are very powerful,” Bell said.