Bill Smith loves his Manalapan High School softball program. The second year coach is leading a program for the first time, and it’s his baby.
So he can sum up the team’s 2019 season, about a month in, better than anyone else can.
“If we’re hitting the ball, we’re tough to beat,” Smith said. “But we’ve been streaky.”
Manalapan started the season 3-0, beating Freehold Township High School, 11-10, at home on April 2, Freehold High School, 13-4, on the road on April 4 and Long Branch High School, 23-0, at home on April 8.
Forty-seven runs in three games. An average of 15.6 per contest. Manalapan was scorching hot.
But then, as Smith said, the Braves cooled off. They went just 3-4 in their next seven games and scored two runs or less in each loss.
Despite the cold stretch, Manalapan is still in a good spot overall. A 6-4 record is solid for a team that finished 7-15 in 2018, with most of the same players.
But again, Smith can sum it up best. No one knows his kid better than him.
“Overall I’m happy with where we are. We have a lot of softball still to play,” he said. “If we can stay consistent at the plate, we’ll be tough to beat.”
Smith and his players have a clear goal at this point: qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament. To do that, the Braves will need to be over .500 by the May 12 cutoff date.
The Braves have four more games before May 12, so the upcoming stretch will go a long way toward determining their season.
“We have to take care of business,” Smith said.
Manalapan’s lineup is its strength, so it will also have to do the heavy lifting. And when the Braves are raking, they are one of the best lineups in central New Jersey.
Six of the team’s nine regulars have a batting average of .333 or above. Junior pitcher/shortstop Jordyn Graime has bopped three home runs. Sophomore pitcher/left fielder Samantha Blume has 11 runs batted in. Junior pitcher/first baseman Charlotte Piper is hitting .536.
Senior shortstop/centerfielder Vienna Chierchia ripped her 100th career hit in Manalapan’s 10-0 home victory over Freehold on April 24. And freshman right fielder Sophie Sklar has become a specialist at turning the lineup over from the nine hole, with a .481 batting average.
The freshman was batting second in the early weeks of the season, but she was feeling pressure to perform. That’s when Smith dropped her down to the last spot in the order. The move eased the pressure and cleared her head.
“Putting her in the nine spot allowed her to take the pressure off herself,” Smith said. “She’s been doing really well.”
The lineup is solidified, and it can compete with anyone. But right now the Braves are a team in the middle. They can pummel struggling teams but they have trouble versus good clubs.
Four of Manalapan’s six victories have come against two different clubs with a combined 2-18 record. Though the Braves did also beat Freehold Township, a squad with a 7-3 mark.
So this team might just have another level it can go to.
Smith believes in his baby.
“Some losses look lopsided but were a lot closer than the scores dictate,” he said.