On June 2 at Kean University in Union, Middletown High School North earned the biggest softball victory in school history.
In the NJSIAA Group 3 championship game, Middletown North beat Chatham High School, 5-0. Lions’ ace Malori Bell pitched a complete game, allowing just three hits and one walk. First baseman and cleanup hitter Ashley Kofsky knocked in two runs.
The Lions previously lost in their only two state group championship appearances, in 1989 and 1992, respectively. This victory clinched the program’s first state group title.
So on the team’s bus ride back to Middletown North, coach Chris Hoffman got a text message from the school’s athletic director, Rich Carroll. Carroll told Hoffman to get off at exit 114 toward the high school.
“We’ve got a surprise for you,” the text read.
As the bus pulled onto Tindall Road, where Middletown North resides, Hoffman and his players saw the surprise and their eyes widened. Hundreds of people were lining the street and cheering for the Lions. Police cars and fire trucks honked their horns.
Most of the players started crying.
“I told them, ‘This is once in a lifetime stuff,'” Hoffman said.
Two days later, in the opening round of the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, Middletown North’s season ended with a 4-2 defeat to Hightstown High School. Hightstown’s Abby Bell hit a grand slam in the top of the ninth inning to break a scoreless tie at Seton Hall University.
It was a heartbreaking way to lose, but Hoffman and his players weren’t too upset on June 5, the morning after the game.
“Winning the group title was our goal,” Hoffman said. “Whatever happened last night was not going to take that away.”
“New Jersey has six state champs out of 406 schools, and we’re one of them,” he proclaimed.
“It was really cool to win the state title,” Bell said. “And huge for our school.”
It’s always “cool” and “huge for our school” when a high school team wins a state title. But you get the sense that those words go deeper with this Middletown North softball community.
Take Middletown North’s junior shortstop, Mia Botti, for example. Her mother, Catherine Botti, also played shortstop for the Lions. Catherine Botti, who was still Catherine Stasik at the time, started for the ’89 and ’92 teams that lost state title games.
After Mia Botti got off the bus on June 2, she found her mom and the two shared a long hug.
“In 10-20 years we can reflect on this,” Mia Botti said. “It’s a great thing to share with my mom.”
Now the Lions will lose five seniors, Bell, Kofsky, second baseman Cara McNulty, catcher Adriana Cerbo and third baseman Jacey Tammaro, from their starting lineup.
And it won’t be easy to replace them. By every measure, this was the most successful class in program history.
During their four years, in which they all started for at least two seasons, the class of 2019 earned 103 victories, an NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group 3 crown in 2017, an NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 championship in 2019 and that state group title this spring.
“Pretty cool,” Hoffman said.
But the Lions will still bring back four starters, Botti, centerfielder Lily Richichi, left fielder Alyssa Sigler and right fielder Ava Turner, in 2020.
“We’ll be back,” Botti said. “We might not be quite as good. But we’ll be back.”