Before Jackie Masone, Izzy Hulme, and the rest of the Hightstown Rams softball team got off the bus Monday, they were already fired up and ready to go
Before Jackie Masone, Izzy Hulme, and the rest of the Hightstown Rams softball team got off the bus Monday, they were already fired up and ready to go to battle.
Hightstown Head Coach Pete Lestician, who drove to the game separately, had seen and communicated to his senior captains the shirts opposing Montgomery was wearing for the pregame: Unfinished Business 5-28-19.
Then, during infield-outfield, the hosts had their backs turned to the Hightstown dugout, making sure the players all saw the shirts.
It probably was not the best way to play it for Montgomery in hindsight. Fifth-seeded Hightstown had already spent the whole of the 2021 season feeling slighted: remember, the Rams came into this season as the defending Group 4 state champion from 2019, with a win over Montgomery in the Central Jersey, Group 4 final (on May 28, 2019) along the way.
With state-ranked Notre Dame, Steinert, and Robbinsville in the Colonial Valley Conference with them, and four losses in five games at the beginning of May, it may have been easy for some people to think this Hightstown team was a shell of that dominant championship squad.
But that is a dangerous thought, and the Rams showed why Monday.
Hightstown scored single runs in the second and third inning, then erupted for four more in the top of the seventh, to beat Montgomery 6-1 in the Central Jersey, Group 4 quarterfinals. The win advances the Rams (16-6) into Wednesday’s CJ4 semifinal against top-seeded Hunterdon Central (21-4), which beat eighth-seeded Middletown South.
“We noticed their shirts, yeah,” Masone, a key player on the 2019 team, said. “I felt the disrespect when they showed their backs to us when we were warming up. Then, they were taking pictures of themselves, and I felt a lot of disrespect. I knew we just had to come out and beat them.
“On the bus ride here, our coach texted us and said they had those shirts. We were getting pumped on the bus. Then they showed their backs to us, and we knew we had to come out here and beat them.”
The win was powered by senior holdovers from that team, who all have the jackets and rings to show why the Rams should not be underestimated. Masone (Drexel University) had a huge RBI single in the third to bring home Izzy Hulme, who went 4-for-4 with two runs scored out of the leadoff spot. Katie Scheid went 2-for-4 and went the distance on the mound, shutting down the Cougars (15-9) with seven strikeouts.
“It was huge to get those early runs,” Scheid said. “I really supported myself, not only on defense, but on offense. I just put the pressure on the team, and that built off each other. That seventh inning was huge for us, because we needed some insurance runs, and it really put us in a strong position. We had a lot of confidence going back out to the field for the bottom of the seventh.”
Hulme, who was an All-Area player in 2019 along with Masone, continues to be the spark plug at the top of the order that runs the offensive engine for the Rams. Hightstown, which had dropped to 8-6 after four losses in eight days from May 6-13, has now won eight in a row heading into the game with the Red Devils Wednesday. Hulme (16-for-31, 13 runs scored during the eight-game run) and Masone (13-for-26, 12 runs, 18 RBI in the last eight) will make sure the Rams will battle on until the final pitch of the campaign.
“It is often said that we are not the same team as two years ago,” Hulme, who broke the through 100-hit plateau last week, said. “But only a couple girls are missing. We have been fighting more recently to just prove ourselves, and I think today really helped us. I just hope that we can keep winning, because these are my favorite people in the world.
“We have won eight in a row, and we were struggling before that. But these wins are definitely helping us gain momentum.”
“It feels great to be a part of this team, because we all grew up together,” Masone added. “To try to recreate what we did two years ago is such an honor, but it is just one game at a time.”
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