Bill Smith was always a baseball coach. He never had any interest in coaching softball, which of course, is why he ended up loving it.
Smith took over the Manalapan High School softball team in 2018, after nine years as an assistant in the Braves’ baseball program. Manalapan’s principal, Dr. Adam Angelozzi, had to convince Smith to accept the job.
“He said, ‘What do you think about softball?’ I said, ‘I coach baseball,'” Smith said. “But I’m happy I took it. It’s so much fun. The girls are so coachable.”
Going into his second season, Smith is not a baseball coach anymore. He’s a softball guy.
“I don’t know if I could go back to baseball,” he said, laughing.
Manalapan went only 7-15 in the coach’s first season. But basically the entire lineup is back for 2019, and there is some talent on Smith’s card.
Senior Vienna Chierchia batted .513 and produced 48 runs last spring. Junior Jordyn Graime hit .364 and scored 20 times. Fellow junior Charlotte Piper hit .309 and produced 22 runs.
The Braves may not win more this year, but they will at least score. On April 30, 2018, Manalapan fell to Freehold Township High School 20-10. Football scores could very well dot the team’s schedule again in 2019.
Manalapan will open its season with a home game on April 2 versus Freehold Township.
“We can steal games and be competitive,” Smith said.
“I’m excited about the season,” Chierchia said. “We have big bats.”
Smith is not ready to pull a Joe Namath and guarantee a championship of any sort. But he has outlined two goals: qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament and the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament.
In 2018, Manalapan missed the Shore Conference Tournament and lost in the first round of the state sectional playoffs, 6-4 to Freehold Township.
The softball coach also has a lofty, but reasonably lofty, goal for his Braves: make a run in the state sectional field.
“If we get a better seed we can do it,” Smith said. “We just have to play defense and hit the ball.”
“You have to do those things if you don’t have a dominant girl in the circle,” Smith added.
High school softball is a lot like high school soccer. In soccer you need a valuable goalie, the one who keeps you in every game, even against the most powerful opponents. In softball you need the ace pitcher, the one who keeps you in every game, even against the most powerful opponents.
The Braves don’t have that shutdown pitcher. Graime and Piper tossed most of the innings last year, and might again this year. But there is one sophomore, Samantha Blume, who could become that ace pitcher.
As a freshman last spring, Blume tossed 9.1 innings, allowed four earned runs and finished 1-0. Not bad. But Smith said “she has really good stuff and will pitch more this year.”
If she emerges, the Braves may become a real contender.
This Manalapan softball season could go a few different ways. But the Braves have a committed coach and group of players, plus some potential. At the very least, they are respectable and exciting.
“A lot of teams are sleeping on us,” Chierchia said. “We’re trying to make a name for ourselves.”