Is it possible for a team that won the Somerset County Tournament and Central Jersey, Group 4 state sectional titles a year ago fly under the radar this spring?
Bryan Upshaw thinks that might just be possible with this year’s Montgomery High softball team.
“I tell the girls all the time that no one is expecting as much from us because we are a different team than the last two years,” the Cougars’ head coach said. “I keep telling them we are a different team with no pressure heading into the season, which should make the girls more relaxed.
“Two years ago we were flying under the radar and I feel like since we have graduated a bunch of key players that same scenario is happening again this year.”
Montgomery went 24-2-1 two years ago in Upshaw’s first season as head coach. No one envisioned that sort of success for a team that was 14-9 a year earlier. The Cougars followed Upshaw’s first season with a 19-8 finish last year that included the county and state sectional titles.
But this year the team is starting over with the graduation of several key players, including pitcher Peyton Schnackenberg.
“I like us being under the radar,” Upshaw said. “We are the defending county and Central Jersey, Group 4 champs so teams will still be after it when we play them. And still have that target in our back. But with the graduation losses we had I don’t know if other teams expect as much from us. The kids are working hard. They know we have the talent to make another run.”
Montgomery has opened the season with two straight victories, topping Gill-St. Bernard’s, 3-0, in its opener on Monday before defeating Phillipsburg, 6-1, on Tuesday. Winning pitcher Tori Ferraiolo allowed just three hits and struck out seven in Tuesday’s decision. In the opener she allowed just three hits and struck out 15.
“We have two solid pitchers,” Upshaw said. “We’re two games in and Tori has pitched great. She is our ace and we also have a freshman, Reese Wilson, as our No. 2. They both can be starters on teams around our area, So we have the pitching, which is key. It’s a nice one-two punch to have with our pitching.”
It’s been just two games, but Upshaw has also been happy with the offense. In the opener, Ferraiolo had two doubles and drove in two runs. Against Phillipsburg, Samantha Mallen collected three hits and scored four runs, while Reece Wilson had two hits and drove in four runs.
“The bats have been awake, which is a good sign,” Upshaw said. “We have always had a strong defensive team, which I feel we also do this year. The bats have been awake which is a good early sign of the season. It’s good having a lineup where we have a nice balance as a team. Tori is a key part of line up. Junior Madison Wilson will be a key. Reese also has a big bat. Our sophomore leadoff hitter, Sam Mallen, has a lot of speed. She was a crucial part of our offense last year when she batted in the nine hole. This year we have her leading off.”
Even without the likes of veterans Schnackenger, Julia Loffredo, Abigail O’Connor and Kylie Karsay around after they graduated, the Cougars still have the mindset of a championship team.
“We have some serious experience returning,” Upshaw said. “We have girls that have played in big games. They have played in the county final and the sectional final. So the experience is there. We’re definitely going to miss Peyton. We lost four starting seniors, our pitcher, catcher, shortstop and first baseman. That’s four key positions. But we do return a bunch of experience, which is nice.
“They have a lot of confidence. We are in a tough conference and they know the competition we will play and they are ready for it.”