In the week leading up to April 30, Kiersten Withstandley was not exactly struggling on the softball field.
She just wasn’t hitting quite as well as she normally does.
But then in that April 30 home game against Howell High School, the Freehold Township High School senior slammed a single to right field. It was the bottom of the first inning, and Withstandley had accomplished the goal that had been weighing on her mind– her 100th career hit.
Freehold Township softball coach Mike Stoia and Withstandley’s teammates stopped the game to come out and hug the senior. The right-handed third baseman held up a 100 hit banner and posed for pictures with her parents, Jack and Jackie Withstandley.
Then she relaxed, and starting hitting like herself again.
Over the next couple weeks, as Freehold Township defeated opponent after opponent, Withstandley enjoyed the hottest stretch of her high school career. The senior went 19-for-28 in the eight games from April 30 to May 11, starting with that Howell game.
The torrid stretch helped fuel a 6-2 surge for the Patriots, in which they outscored opponents, 83-20. It also put Withstandley within six hits of Freehold Township’s all-time record of 124, set by Julie Saporito in 2003. Freehold Township has played three games since May 11, and Withstandley is up to 122 hits.
“She’s on fire,” Stoia said. “Getting the 100th hit really took the pressure off.”
“It felt really good,” Withstandley said. “It’s something I’ve been trying for since my freshman year, so I was thinking about it a lot.”
The senior and fourth year starter bats second in Stoia’s order, between two electric juniors in leadoff hitter Lauren Pscolka and third hitter Zoey Valentino. Withstandley also takes extra swings in her free time, video tapes those sessions and critiques them and plays year round with the New Jersey Breakers travel softball team.
She is surrounded by talent and a relentlessly hard worker. Both factors have contributed to Withstandley’s best season yet.
The senior was already committed to play at Rutgers University before this season even started. Rutgers is probably even happier about its decision to recruit Withstandley now.
The senior is hitting .481 with 36 runs scored, 37 hits, 24 runs batted in and 19 stolen bases in 2019. All those numbers dwarf her 2018 numbers, when she made the Shore Conference’s All-A North Division team. And this season isn’t even over yet.
“I just kept hitting and working on things over the summer,” Withstandley said.
“She’s just had a great year,” Stoia added. “She’s crushing every stat category.”
Freehold Township still has at least some games left, too. The Patriots are the No. 6 seed in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament and the No. 8 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament. They are a victory away from the semifinals in both brackets.
At her current pace, Withstandley might shatter the program record for hits. That would mean a lot to her, but it’s also not weighing on her like the 100 hit benchmark did for about a week.
“I want more hits than just 100, so it doesn’t feel any different,” Withstandley said. “It would be really nice though. It would mean a lot just to be able to hold it.”
That said, if Withstandley breaks the record, she doesn’t necessarily want it to stand for as long as Saporito’s record stood for. Pscolka and Valentino each have 96 career hits, and they both still have a year to go.
“If someone beats it after me that would be cool too,” Withstandley said.