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Tight squeeze: Knolls takes sectional title, 1-0

Morris Knolls gained its fifth sectional championship on Saturday, June 3, 2023. Photo courtesy of Morris Knolls coach Keith Heinemann Morris Knolls gained its fifth sectional championship on Saturday, June 3, 2023.
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ROXBURY _ Abby Freidman refused to give in to the moment. Instead, Friedman helped Morris Knolls earn one of its biggest wins ever in the Golden Eagles proud softball history.

Friedman pitched out of jams, leaving a runner stranded in scoring position at second base in the sixth and third base in the seventh, and scattered four hits, struck out three and walked three to lead second-seeded Morris Knolls past top-seeded Roxbury, 1-0, in the North 1, Group III championship game on Saturday, June 3.

"I'm just happy I can contribute in any way I can," said Freidman, a senior right-hander who shared time in the circle the past two seasons with junior left-hander Leah Kleczkowski. "We all really came together today and it was a true team effort. That's the way our whole season has gone - I'm so happy and so proud for every player on this team."

Morris Knolls (23-4) will play at North 2, Group III champion Cranford (26-4) in a group semifinal game on Tuesday, June 6 at 3 p.m. Cranford, coached by Melissa Moreno, defeated South Plainfield, 5-1, to earn its sectional championship. The Cougars have won three straight Union County Tournament titles and have won the Union County Conference-Watchung Division two years in a row.

Junior right-hander Hailey Errichiello, one of the top pitchers in the state, threw an excellent complete game for Roxbury (22-5). She gave up five hits, struck out 12 and walked none. The Gaels' ace notched wins over Morris Knolls three times during the 2023 season - twice in NJAC-American Division games and in the Morris County Tournament semifinals. Coming into Saturday's game, Roxbury had prevailed in 10 of its previous 13 games against the Golden Eagles dating back to the start of the 2018 season.

"We were never thinking about all those earlier games against Roxbury," said Morris Knolls junior Jessica Fox, who went 2 for 3 and had the lone RBI of the game on a squeeze bunt in the top of the fifth inning. "We were just concentrating on today. Hailey is very good and I knew we had to make that one run stand up."

Fox's sister, Julia, a freshman, scored the run on her sister's well-placed bunt for a base hit. Freshman Sofia Cruz (.446 batting average, 33 for 74, 19 runs scored, nine RBIs, 16 SBs) ended with two hits and a stolen base for the Golden Eagles. Sophomore Ryan Mullen went 2 for 3 at the plate for Roxbury.

Errichiello recorded 44 strikeouts in 28 innings pitched against the Golden Eagles this season and finished 2023 with a 1.22 earned run average and 248 strikeouts in 132 innings pitched. Also solid on offense, Errichiello has hit 11 career home runs and, this year, hit .457. Among her hits were eight doubles, a triple and five home runs.

Roxbury, which is now has one of the the top softball programs in New Jersey under Paul Critelli (73-29 overall in five season at the Gaels' helm), has gone 66-19 over the last three seasons. The Gaels have been MCT runners-up three years in a row and won North 1, Group III sectional titles in 2022 and 2021. A year ago, Roxbury earned the overall Group III crown with a 6-4 victory over Steinert before falling to Watchung Hills, 7-3, in the Tournament of Champions semifinals.

The Gaels finished first in the NJAC-American Division with a 9-1 record this season while Morris Knolls took second at 8-2. In 2022, the positions were reversed in the league with Morris Knolls earning the title with an 11-1 record and Roxbury right behind at 10-2.

Morris Knolls softball coach Keith Heinemann, in his 16th season, is 265-79-1 from 2011 through 2023 and has a 337-104-1 career mark. His team won the Group IV title in 2010, defeating Eastern. His teams have won three MCT championships (2008, 2014 and 2019), five sectional championships (2008, 2010, 2011, 2017, 2023) and been to nine sectional finals in his time at the helm.

This year, Morris Knolls also had a big regular season win over Essex County and state power Mount St. Dominic, the North Non-Public A champion and Essex County Tournament runner-up. The Golden Eagles scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to rally for 3-2 victory.

"Sometimes teams and schools from Morris County have been underrated," said Heinemann. "But we have shown that we can, at the least, compete with anyone around. We're very proud of that."

Besides Morris Knolls, Jefferson (24-7), the NJAC-Freedom Division champion, Jefferson triumphed in the North Jersey Section 1, Group II final. The Falcons beat Bergen County powers Mahwah and Ramsey earlier in the tournament.

Morris Knolls shut out Fort Lee, 14-0, in the first round of the state tournament. Paramus and Sparta also fell to the Golden Eagles in state tourney action.

Marty Seyler coached the Golden Eagles from 1973 through 1987 and they took the Group IV championship in 1980, defeating Edision in the title game. Pete Lazaro headed the program from  from 1989 through 2007 and amassed more than 300 victories.

Last modified onWednesday, 14 June 2023 09:35

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