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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Pop culture? Not so much!

By the spring of 1993 at the Ocean County Observer, we were moving in a bigger direction in the sports department. Mike, our former assistant sports editor, was now our sports editor as of that early March, and a month later, I got elevated to assistant sports editor. After 8 1/2 years, I had finally moved into a full-time position. I was hesitant about it, but I couldn't have been happier.

And our spring 1993 All-County teams were going along just nicely thanks. There were all the basic All-County teams done by our writers there -- Steve Falk did the boys tennis and golf teams, our new track guy, Bob Considine, had put together the All-County boys and girls track teams, I was putting together both the girls soccer and softball teams and Chris Christopher was in charge of taking on the All-County baseball team like he normally does. Mike wrote the Male Athlete of the Year story on Jackson Memorial runner Rich Morris, the first junior to win the honor in that award's history which I still was not sure he deserved (my choice was Pinelands Regional's James Vila, a terrific all-around senior athlete). And there was nooooooo doubt whatsoever as to who our Female Athlete of the Year was -- that would be Ocean County's greatest female athlete, Point Pleasant Boro's Christie Pearce, with 12 All-County first team nods in field hockey, basketball and soccer and who was taking her talents to West Long Branch to join sister Wendi at Monmouth University to play soccer.

But 1993 was also the first year we unveiled a new All-County team. Actually, two of them. For the first time ever, we were doing scholar-athlete teams. While over the years we were honoring the best athletes the county could offer up, what we had not done was reward those who did very well in the classroom with their own All-County team. It was 15 boys and 15 girls representing the 15 high schools in the county, the 14 public schools and Catholic school Monsignor Donovan.

And it was Chris who drew the nod to write the stories. One thing I will always say on Chris' behalf was the man worked very, very hard to put together stories, especially at All-County time. And though at times his stories may have read the same (I called it his "formulaic approach"), they were always done on time and each bio on each kid on each All-County team was done with care. So for the first time, we were given a list of the 15 boys and 15 girls from all our county schools who captured the honors in their classes. And over the years, there was a banquet honoring the young student-athletes thanks to the athletic directors of the county that was held in Brick Township. And for a number of years, I remember WOBM-FM personality Kevin Williams being the emcee of the event.

So it was a big deal. It was decided that after all the spring sports stories were done and the athletes of the year were announced, the All-County scholar-athlete teams were to be announced to our readers. And as always, Chris banged out the two stories of all 30 kids and gave them off to Mike, not ever mentioning the kid's prowess on the field or on the court, but what they were ranked in their class, the grade-point average and what clubs and events they were a part of.

It was a Tuesday night, June 29, 1993. The boys' All-County scholar-athlete story had run in the paper. We had finished up putting the paper out and the only two people left in the sports department were myself and Mike. Mike had been busy most of the night and he wanted to finish up on something he was doing, so he asked me if I could read Chris' All-County girls scholar-athlete team.

I said, "Sure." So I found the file in our system and began to read his story. Now when you're reading the same stuff over and over and over and over again and it's all written in that "formulaic approach" I was talking about earlier, your eyes tend to get a bit heavy and you literally believe that this is the piece of work that was meant to cure insomnia. And, of course, Chris did this All-County team in alphabetical order by school name. So he started with Brick High, then Brick Memorial, Central Regional, Jackson Memorial, Lacey ... and now I'm up to Lakewood's recipient of the honor.

I am not 100 percent sure of who it was, but I am about 90 percent sure so I won't mention the name, but if it was who I think it was, she was one heck of a smart young lady who pitched for the Lakewood Piners softball team that spring. So I'm reading her bio and it's basically the same stuff over and over again in that fantastic "formulaic approach." Apparently, she was a thespian and did plays at Lakewood High. So I'm reading about the plays she was a part of in her four years at the school. And one of those plays is sticking out like a sore thumb to me.


My mind was not clearly all there after going through a few bios already. It wasn't clicking in. I just kept looking at that word in its spelled out form.


I don't know why it took about 15 seconds, but when it finally sank in, I put my hand over my eyes and gave this, "Oh ... my ... God" reaction to what I just figured out. I shook my head and showed a busy Mike what I just read.

Well it took Mike far less time to figure out the "Greece" thing than I did. I still remember the reaction as he read that line of the young lady's plays and saw that. He hit his forehead with his hand and shook his head afterward.

There was this look of dumbfoundedness that came across.

I made the edit on the screen to change "Greece," to "Grease" ... as in the famous play-turned-movie about high school life at Rydell High School in the 1950s, as in the movie that was celebrating its 15th anniversary in 1993, as in one of the most memorable movies of the 1970s ... of all-time, really!

Yeah, Chris -- that would be THAT "Grease." I don't know anything about that other play "Greece." What was the highlight of "Greece?" Traditional folk music and broken plates all over Athens??

Nonetheless, Mike and I got this terrific laugh over this faux pas. Interestingly, Chris didn't mess anything else up in the All-County story. We were done for the evening.

Now it's Wednesday, June 30, and I had arrived at the same time as Mike. Steve had arrived not too far after that and both Mike and I called Steve over to tell him what Chris had written. In typical Steve fashion, he shook his head and asked, "Are you serious?"

So before I had left to come to work, I slipped into my parents' album collection at home and pulled out the famous "Grease" double album (above) which, of course, featured John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John on the front. I kept it underneath the computer terminal ready to pull it out when the time came. So I'm sitting on one side of the sports desk with Mike and Steve is on the other. Chris was out covering a basketball game that night. Well sometime after 8 that night, Chris came back from his event and he reported to the desk as he always had to tell us about what was going on at Bay Lea courts that evening.

Mike told him all is cool. Then it was my turn.

"Chris, I had to edit your All-County girls scholar-athlete team last night. You had one mistake in there as far as I could see, but it was a pretty glaring one."

Chris looked at me quizzically.

So I ask him, "Spell the play 'Grease?'"

He looked at me like I was nuts or something close to that.

"You had a girl from Lakewood High who was in the musical 'Grease.' Spell 'Grease?'"

And so he proceeds to spell it just like the country -- "G-r-e-e-c-e."

At this point, Mike is doing everything within his power to keep from cracking up and Steve is looking stone-faced at Chris knowing there's a punchline waiting to be delivered. That's when I pulled out the famous album with the famous cover on it.

"Chris, recognize this album?"

It was slowly coming back to him. I think he started to half-heartedly sing, "You're The One That I Want," but I wasn't having any of that.

"C'mon Chriiiiiis!" I said with a smile. "This was out 15 years ago! You had to remember this, right?"

Mike couldn't hold it in any longer. Chris walked away knowing that we called him on his pop culture references and poor Mark, our nighttime news side editor, just shook his head in absolute disbelief. And I didn't stop smiling for another hour.

I'm pretty sure that Chris was careful about the names of plays and how they were spelled in the following years while I was there as an editor looking over his work.

But I had to admit it was one of the funniest things I had ever seen in my 15 years at the Observer.

And I'm still waiting on the movie version of "Greece."


Saturday, June 8, 2013

The mess known as the 1991 OCT championship

For the fourth straight year, the 1991 Ocean County Softball Tournament championship game saw the top two seeds in the event make the final.

By far, top-seeded Toms River North and No. 2 seed Brick were the two best teams in the county all season long.

North was getting back to elite status under head coach Becky Miller and she had a senior-dominated team led by the battery of pitcher Heather Richards and catcher Kim Niedzwicki, shortstop Tammy Pape, third baseman Jen Carlisle, left fielder Rene Haskamp and overall best hitter and center fielder Jen Gentle. Everything pointed in North's direction that this should have been their year. They were the favorites that season to win the Class A South season considering their in-town rivals of East and South were going to have somewhat "down" years compared to 1990, South losing quite a few players from the previous two seasons, and East having to be in "interim head coach" mode when Debbie Schwartz took time off from her position to raise her first child, Alex, and Joe Arminio was called up from the junior varsity level to help assistant Dawn Dziedzic.

South still had a very, very good year thanks to pitcher Jodi Solana and third baseman Renae Avalone. East flat-out didn't (5-19) and the season was a nightmare on Raider Way.

Southern Regional was building up toward the next two years with its talent, as was Jackson Memorial. Lakewood had a halfway decent team thanks to seniors Jennifer Cranley and Addie Dix as leaders. Brick Memorial was going through a tough time of it like East.

That left Brick. Yeah, the Brick High Green Dragons who just four years earlier were the laughingstock of high school softball in Ocean County. From 1985-87, the team built a streak of 40 consecutive games.

That's 40 consecutive losing games. When I said they were bad, I mean they were really bad.

But in 1988, a new coach entered the fray. His name was Al Grove. He was the popular longtime head boys bowling coach at the school and his program churned out standout bowlers and his teams were usually division winners. He knew the girls on the softball team and he felt like he could get that program going in the right direction.

Well a new batch of freshmen entered in with Grove that year, but none of them shined quite the way Viki Kara did. Kara was a hard-throwing right-hander whose pitches were just too hard to catch up with. Many in Ocean County did not see this kind of pitcher unless they were facing Solana on an occasional basis. Solana was tough on the left side, Kara was tough on the right.

Brick started turning its misfortune around. Six games into the 1988 season, the Green Dragons broke the losing skid at 45 games when Kara no-hit Howell. In 1989, Brick won an OCT first-round game when Kara no-hit Manchester. But getting to the next level was a challenge after just winning games -- Brick lost in 1989 to eventual champion Toms River East in the OCT quarterfinals, then were stunned by Sue Rogers' Pinelands Regional team in the opening round of the 1990 tournament as Tara Leek tossed a surprising 8-0 shutout against Kara and the Green Dragons.

Now the 1991 Green Dragons had really one shot left to go to that next level. Like North, Brick was senior-laden as well with Kara, first baseman Lori Liegl, third baseman Kim Coco, left fielder Danielle Tomaselli and right fielder Stacy Sherman.

The two teams were on a collision course all season with one another. They split their Class A South battles, North winning the first matchup and Brick capturing the second. And it was that first win that gave North the top seed of the OCT ahead of Brick, which got the No. 2 seed, while South was awarded the third seed. But it was the second win that gave Brick the fourth seed for the Shore Conference Tournament and North the fifth seed, meaning the two teams would collide in the quarterfinals if they won their first-rounders.

Both teams did and in the third meeting, Brick defeated North. Brick lost a tough one to Middletown South in the semifinals. Still, the toteboard read Brick 2, North 1.

As for the state tournament, the two teams reached the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV semifinals. North beat Washington Township, but Brick lost a heartbreaker, 2-1, in eight innings to Cherokee even though Kara struck out 20 Chiefs, including a mind-blowing 17 in a row. Cherokee would go on to beat North in the SJ IV final at North.

All that was left was the OCT. North and Brick both drew byes as the top two seeds in the 14-team event. North defeated fiesty Southern, 4-2, on Gentle's clutch two-run double in the sixth that broke a 2-2 tie. Brick had little trouble beating the Cranley- and Dix-led Lakewood Piners, 10-3, as Kara struck out 10 and allowed four hits. The Piners helped the Green Dragons' cause immensely by committing 12 errors in this game.

An omen of things to come down the road.

Now because of the two other tournaments, the semifinals and final were not set up until the first week of June. So after the May 18 quarterfinals, the next games would not be played until Monday, June 3, a busy day to say the least since it started with me waiting for tickets in Holmdel for a couple of shows I was interested in seeing at the Garden State Arts Center that summer. I stood in line for what was almost four hours. Good thing I planned accordingly that day to take my scorebook and my Radio Shack-made speakers and public address system with me so I could jump back on the Parkway and drive to Lakewood's Wilbur Thompson Field, located across the street from Lakewood High School since I was to cover the games that night and do the PA as well.

Got there just about 4 p.m. and hurried to get everything together for what would be a 5 p.m. start of the twinbill. First up was North and Point Pleasant Boro. The Panthers, the No. 5 seed of the tournament, had turned their fortunes around in 1990 under new coach John Natoli, a super-great guy. However, thanks to budget cuts that spring, a few teachers' heads were on the chopping block at the Boro.

One of those heads was Natoli's. And there was very little support from the higher-ups at the school, most notably athletic director Ed Gilmore. The players went to bat for Natoli, but they could not save his job. And so mere days after Natoli and his players realized he was not coming back for the '92 season, Boro walked on the field and played this semifinal like they were part of a funeral procession.

North could have just about done anything it wanted to that night. The Mariners allowed Angela Stencel to score on an error off a Judy DelPlato groundball in the first inning for a 1-0 lead, but the Mariners then tied it when catcher DelPlato threw away a wild pitch by starter Michelle Meaney trying to get Gentle at third and Gentle easily came in. First baseman Jen DeNitto knocked in Pape with the go-ahead run in the third and North exploded for four runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth. Boro committed four of its five errors in the final two innings and lost 8-1 as Richards allowed two hits, walked four, hit a batter and struck out three.

The story, though, really was never about North winning -- it was about Boro's last game under Natoli, who won 31 games in his two years, but his thanks was to be set free after the school year was up. A number of Boro girls, including Meaney, came off that field in tears. That sight I will never forget.

Sure, North had its moments in the game to win, but this was all about Boro and it was coming after the media attention caused by Natoli's soon-departure. Natoli was melancholy afterward, but he sadly understood the circumstances and had that resignation of "completion" with the program. No matter what anyone was going to say or do in his defense, it was over in Point Pleasant Boro's eyes.

To this day, it is still one of the worst decisions I've ever seen made by a board of education. I've always contended that there are bad teachers with tenure that should be sent out to pasture before any of the young and vibrant ones who could spark an interest in the youth of today.

One semifinal down, one to go -- and in this one, Brick beat South in a battle of all battles featuring the two hardest-throwing pitchers in the county. With Brick holding a 2-1 lead in the fifth, Kara came up against Solana. She took a 1-2 pitch and rocketed it out to the right-center field gap. She circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run. Kara was able to protect the lead and the Green Dragons won it, 3-1, to make their first-ever final. Kara struck out five Indians that night and allowed three hits. In her final game, Solana gave up four hits, two earned runs and struck out six.

So we had our final -- North against Brick. The game was slated for Saturday night, June 8, 1991, at Wilbur Thompson Field. I had to do the preview for the game for the Observer. Coach Miller was not happy with me because I made her win against Point Boro all about Boro and she basically complained that, "Hey, we won the game." I understood her point. It wasn't as if this was the first time she had something to complain about with me, though, and I always kept those complaints in my back pocket. Meanwhile, Grove was just pleased that his kids were performing to the level he had hoped they would all along. This championship was going to be the culmination of from where he started with the woebegone program in 1988 and the end point of his team hoisting the championship trophy.

It is 4:30 p.m., June 8. This day was just freakishly hot. The afternoon high was 92 degrees. And as I arrived in the back of the parking lot away from potential foul balls hitting my car, I could see both Dave McKelvey, the Lakewood High coach and tournament director, and Steve Levine, who helped run the Lakewood Recreation Softball League that played on this field, getting the field ready for the game. McKelvey had run a hose and watered the field at about 4:40 p.m.

Game time was 7 and I figured he would get back to watering the field again before the game. Never did.

Little did I know of the nightmare that would take place that evening on that field.

This night was going to be unique in many ways, and not just because the two best softball teams in the county were going to settle matters once and for all in a championship game, but this was going to be the very first time that we were going to have a first-pitch ceremony. This was the 10th anniversary of the first championship game played at Winding River Park and the team that won the title, Central Regional, was going to be honored that evening. Dave, who had run the tournament since 1988 and had me come aboard full-time by doing statistics of every game which would lead to the handing out of four individual awards at the end of the event, was more than good with the whole ceremony idea. So before arriving at the field, I had purchased a dozen white roses to give each member of the 1981 Central team that was arriving for the game. And to their credit, most of the players from that team arrived that night to be part of the ceremony, as was head coach Norm Selby and assistant coach Gloria Garibaldi, who were in their first years as the coaching staff in 1981.

By about 5:45 p.m., both teams had arrived at Lakewood's field. And after stretching and running and throwing, they each took their turns at fielding practice. They were both having problems with the field. The field was as hard as a rock, baked in the sun all day long other than the one time McKelvey put a hose to water it down at 4:40 p.m. Somehow, I sensed this was a recipe for disaster.

I never anticipated the battle of attrition I was about to witness, though.

Up from my perch on top of the Lakewood High softball shed, a converted dumpster from years before, I went through both teams' lineups, introduced the coaches and umpires for the final and played the national anthem. And then I introduced the members of the Central team as well as Selby and Garibaldi. At the end, Phyllis Angellella Aires, the winning pitcher in that title game who threw a one-hitter in the 5-2 victory over South that June afternoon at Winding River Park, tossed out the first pitch, which she did in this instance to Niedzwicki. It was an hour earlier when I explained to her that she was going to be introduced last and throw out the first pitch for which she implied playfully, "Do I have to hold my rose?" "No," I answered back. "Demand Selby to hold it." She smiled and he ultimately obliged.

Since that night, the first-pitch ceremony has become a large part of the OCT championship pre-game ceremony and a staple just about every year with the exception of four finals, three of which I was not a part of because I was down in Key West at the time.

And we were off and running on this warm evening with the temperatures hovering still at 85 degrees, the second warmest OCT final ever after the 93-degree, June 7, 1984 afternoon steam bath between Central and Southern at Winding River Park.

Kara was to lead off the game. She hit a grounder at freshman second baseman Lesley Gertner. She fumbled the groundball and could not make a play on it for an error.

This was just the calling card for the rest of the game. Kara stole second and No. 2 hitter Sue Fleisher hit a groundball that ate up Carlisle at third for another error. First and third, no outs and two North errors already. Sherman grounded to Gertner, who tagged out Fleisher, but Kara scored the first run of the game. Coco hit a groundball that caught shortstop Pape in between hops, putting runners on first and second with one out.

That's three errors already and we weren't even five minutes into the game!

Colleen Spillane, the Brick shortstop, beat out an infield single to load the bases. This brought up Tomaselli, whose groundball to Gertner could not be handled properly and Sherman scored to make it 2-0. That's two runs on one hit with four errors within the first six batters of the game. North then got a break when Richards uncorked a wild pitch, but Niedzwicki was cat-like to get to the backstop and throw to Richards at the plate to get Coco in a close play for the second out.

But with runners on second and third, Liegl hit a groundball that Pape could not handle and Spillane came home for the third Green Dragon run on the fifth error of the inning. Richards struck out No. 8 hitter Niki Schley and mercifully, the inning was over.

It was now Brick's turn to be in the field and the left-handed hitting Gentle greeted Kara with a single to left field. Tomaselli muffed the routine grounder in the outfield for one error, allowing Gentle to get to second, then her throw to second skipped past Fleisher, allowing Gentle to move to third.

Two errors, one play. Can someone please play this game correctly!?!

Well Kara was about to remedy the immediate trouble. She struck out Pape and Richards swinging and caught DeNitto looking to end the inning.

Richards left two runners stranded on base after hits in the top of the second and in the bottom of the inning, Carlisle beat out an infield single. Niedzwicki beat out a bunt single on the left side and when third baseman Coco threw the ball away for yet another error, Carlisle was on third with no outs. Right fielder Paige Reinheimer delivered an opposite-field single to right to score Carlisle, cutting the lead to 3-1 and putting Niedzwicki at third. But Kara struck out designated hitter Kim Snell and got Haskamp to pop out to her to end the rally.

In the third, Coco hit a grounder right back at Richards, but Richards didn't take her time and threw errantly to DeNitto for North's sixth miscue of the game. Pape, though, had her back. She snagged a Spillane line drive at her and thrw to DeNitto to double up Coco, then gobbled up a Tomaselli grounder to end the inning, keeping it at 3-1.

And it was Kara's turn to soon err. After Pape walked, Richards put down a bunt, but Kara's throw to Liegl was low and in the dirt for Brick's fourth error of the game, moving runners to second and third with no outs. Yet another North threat. But DeNitto popped out to Coco, Carlisle struck out looking and Niedzwicki lined out to Liegl to squash that opportunity.

North was doing damage to itself. The Mariners had the opportunities, but couldn't cash in, yet they were hanging in there down 3-1 after three innings.

Then this venture was about to get waaaaaay more interesting. Liegl delivered a solid hit to right field, and when the ball took an unfamiliar hop on the Thompson Field grass to Reinheimer, she couldn't glove it. It skipped past her, but not too far. Still, it allowed Liegl to get to second on North's seventh error of the game.

After Richards struck out Schley on a third-strike bunt attempt foul, designated hitter Kelly Munro came up. She hit a grounder that Pape snagged, then looked to second to hold up Liegl. Unfortunately, her throw was not quite near DeNitto and skipped away, allowing Liegl to get to third as Munro scampered to second.

Kara grounded out to Gertner for the second out, but Liegl scored to make it 4-1. Then Fleisher, Sherman and Coco all followed up with solid singles to score Munro and Fleisher. Reinheimer threw a strike to Pape at second to nail Coco trying to advance on her single.

But once again, Brick made North pay for the errors it made and it was 6-1. The Mariners couldn't let this game get badly out of hand. And by the fourth, Kara had found her groove. Going in with a 21-4 record, just like her team, Kara settled down. She gave up a fourth-inning single to Haskamp, but everyone else she got out, including fifth-inning strikeouts of Pape and DeNitto.

By the fifth inning, I can see a head pop up slightly over the shed I was sitting on from the ladder. It was McKelvey, who looked at me and told me, "This is it. I've had it." It was code that after four years of running the OCT, he had enough. I'm pretty certain the activity on the field was making it harder for him to want to stay around. And so by 1992, the tournament was going to have its fourth director in history after South coach Jim Christiano, former East mentor Rick Dispoto and McKelvey. 

In the top of the sixth, another Gertner error, her third of the game, got Kara on. But back-to-back comebackers from Fleisher and Sherman to Richards turned into forceouts at second. Then after a single by Coco, her second of the game, Spillane struck out looking.

North was still in this, but were trailing by five runs with two innings to go. These Mariners were in a familiar position, though -- just one year earlier, it was them leading East, 6-1, with three outs left in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinal matchup at Southern Regional before East rallied for a 7-6 win in the bottom of the seventh. So it could be done again.

And North was about to start taking advantage when Carlisle hit a grounder to Fleisher, who couldn't completely haul in the grounder for one error, then threw wildly away from Liegl for another error, putting a runner on second with no outs. A good start for North.

More importantly, those errors helped to establish history -- the 14th and 15th errors of this championship game had tied the record held by Central and South in the 1986 final. The next faus pas was about to be record-setting.

The next batter was Niedzwicki. She put a bunt down to move Carlisle up. Kara went to grab the ball between the mound and the first-base line, but couldn't pick it up. A freakin' flat-out, history-makin' error!

That's when I knew something needed to be announced. And I was just the person to do it.

"Ladies and gentleman. With that error, the two teams have now combined to set a new OCT record for errors in a final. That was the 16th error of the game."

Brick assistant coach Amy Tice looked directly up my way from where she was just below in the first-base dugout and said, "Thanks a lot!"

No matter how bad any final was before this one -- or after this one -- this championship game was going down as the worst one ever! Though the hardness of the field caused by a hot day and not helped by having a hose water down the field only once was making matters difficult for both teams defensively, still these were the two best teams in the county! No excuses!!

A passed ball by catcher Denise Hill allowed Niedzwicki to get to second, but because of Kara's hustle, Carlisle was held up at third. Kara was able to bear down to strike out Reinheimer and Snell. That left it up to Haskamp, the Mariners' No. 9 hitter. On a 1-1 pitch, Haskamp hit a two-hopper to Liegl, who let the ball play her instead of vice-versa. The ball skipped off her glove and to the foul-ball side of first base. The 17th error of the game allowed Carlisle to score, making it 6-2.

But Miller was going to gamble. She sent Niedzwicki around third heading home. Liegl was able to get to the ball that was not too far from where she fumbled the initial grounder. The left-handed Liegl picked the ball up, wheeled around and fired a strike to Hill, catching Niedzwicki by about a step as the tag was made to end the threat.

North got a run, but it needed more. And now down 6-2 with three outs left, you could see the wind was taken right out of their sails by the most important play of the game -- a throwing gem that came, naturally, off an error.

Tomaselli singled to begin the seventh and a Richards error off a Liegl grounder was only complicating things further when Richards recovered the ball and had Tomaselli dead-to-rights out at third, but Carlisle dropped the ball for the 11th North error, putting runners on second and third with no outs. Schley grounded out to Pape, who froze the other runners. But Munro singled to score Tomaselli to make it 7-2. And with Munro taking second on fielder's indifference, it brought up Kara with second and third and one out. She hit a groundball that Gertner could not handle for her record-tying fourth error in the final, allowing Liegl to score to make it 8-2. Grove put in Shannon Bowman as a pinch-runner so Kara could get to relax a little bit before going out to pitch in the bottom of the inning. Bowman took off for second and stole the base, but on the play, Richards, who got the ball from Niedzwicki, tried to catch Munro sleeping.

Didn't work ... the one-hopper Richards threw in Carlisle's way bounced behind her for the Mariners' 13th and final error of the game brought home Munro, making it 9-2. Fleisher blooped a double to right field, but because there was an uncertainty of whether the ball would be caught or not, Bowman held up at third. Then Sherman hit a groundball at Pape, who kept the runner close at third, then fired to DeNitto for the out. Bowman took off for home and DeNitto fired a strike to Niedzwicki to nail Bowman to complete the 6-3-2 double play and end the inning.

The irony of all ironies -- in having the worst fielding day of any team in OCT championship history with a record 13 errors, which still stands to this day, North finished the day with a very well-tailored double play.

But no matter how good North was, it wasn't scoring seven runs with three outs left against Kara, who was primed to finish out the rags-to-riches story for Brick.

Gentle started the inning out by reaching on an error by Coco -- the ninth Brick error of the game and the 22nd and final miscue of this matchup. But for as quickly as Gentle got to first, she was off for second.

One problem -- she left first base too soon and was banged out for it by the umpire for the first out of the inning. Gentle, a two-time All-County center fielder, had her last high school memory be of that. Pape and Richards both reached on singles, but the seven-run mountain to climb was just a bit much for the Mariners. DeNitto went after the first pitch from Kara and popped up to the pitcher.

In the seventh inning, Kara only threw six pitches -- four of North's Mariners went after Kara's first pitch and put it in play. That was the case with Carlisle, whose high school career ended with a lazy flyball to center field that Schley backed up a couple of feet on and pocketed for the last out of the game.

Brick players celebrated at the mound and Grove, who was to turn 50 later that year, became the oldest coach to win an OCT title, an honor he would hold until 1998. He was given the Gatorade bath by his players soon after it was over.

Brick ended the season with a 22-4 record, the best in program history. And Kara took home both the Most Valuable Pitcher and Most Valuable Player honors in her final game. She finished with 46 wins and her contributions to Brick's turnaround as a program prompted Grove to retire her No. 13 jersey.

Ironically, the Top Fielder Award went to a player on North's team -- DeNitto, who did not make an error for the entire tournament. And after it was all over and I had to read the final, ugly totals -- Brick, nine runs, 13 hits, nine errors, North, two runs, nine hits, 13 errors -- it was one of North's player who approached my post after the game and told me, "How dare you!"

To this day, I still have no idea what she was talking about. If it had to do with announcing the error totals of the game and the fact a record had been set of 22 errors in the final, then I'm not sorry at all. Actually, I was quite embarrassed to be there to witness this disaster and she had no room to talk considering she committed a few of those errors.

If I felt sorry for anyone that day, it was Lesley Gertner, the freshman pressed into the role at second base because normal second baseman Snell got hurt and couldn't play the position, forcing Gertner into a distinction no one ever wishes to have. She tied the four errors made by Toms River South shortstop Michele Recchion in that '86 final for most miscues in a final. Coincidentally, Recchion and Gertner would be joined on the list of four-error players by another North second baseman, Nicolette Schellato, in the 1997 final at Toms River East against Central Regional.

But in 1993, Gertner and North redeemed themselves when it won the OCT as a fourth seed and Gertner was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, an amazing comeback to say the least.

Still, as I packed up my things and left, I had one side partying with their trophy -- and another side pissed off at me. And as I put my stuff into my car, I realized something -- my car window on my driver's side was still down because of how blazing hot it was that day. And as I went to sit down in my '77 Dodge Aspen, my driver's side seat was wet. There was not a cloud in the sky and we had no rain in the final.

You could figure out which side caused that to happen. So with a soggy seat, I drove back to the Observer to write up the game story and file it.

And the next day, I still had a whole lot of crap filed away in the back of my mind, including the actions of some loser fans on the Toms River North side. So on Sunday, I asked Dave, our assistant sports editor, how much room we had. He said we had plenty. I told him I could give him an OCT notebook as a followup to the game. He was fine with it.

My first phone call that Sunday evening went to South coach Jim Christiano, whose Indians stumbled and fumbled their way to that embarrassing 11-error performance in the '86 final against Central, which they lost, 9-5. He said he had read my story and that he was just in shock over the performances of both teams, especially North because he told me that North's big asset was its defense. But he said he was also relieved he didn't have that record anymore for most errors in a final by one team. He gladly let North have that mark.

So my lead was of Christiano's reaction to the error-fest that took place in Lakewood that Saturday night. And needless to say, Becky Miller wasn't too pleased with her place in history and she complained again about the story.

"Why are you complaining about it? It happened. Your team did it and it cost them."

 Again, she was stating her claim that yes, her team did make 13 errors in a final and that they can't replay the game. But it was just the whole precedent that it was, well, being celebrated. It was never talked about again.

Hard-as-a-rock field or not, North couldn't look this bad in a final. I couldn't care less what excuse they used. North was a No. 1 seed, plain and simple. North didn't play like one.

And thus the 1991 season ended that destructively. Twenty-two errors in a final during a season that was loaded with some of the best softball individual talent I ever encountered. It shouldn't have ended that way.

But it did. I hope I never view another game quite like that one again.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The famous final chapter of Norm Selby's career

I was back in Ocean County in May 2012, my old familiar stomping grounds. I was there to visit family as always and to record more history for my Web site honoring the Ocean County Softball Tournament --

On this particular Thursday, I was doing a doubleheader of games in the tourney -- Central Regional was hosting Barnegat and Toms River East was hosting Toms River North. The Central-Barnegat game went quickly with Central winning, so in between the games, I decided to make a phone call. It was to the best coach in any sport I have ever dealt with in my career -- former Central Regional softball coach Norm Selby.

He was there and I told them I was in the neighborhood so he told me to come on over. He was there along with wife Karin and daughter Lorrin, who played for her dad on varsity between 1990-92. His grandchildren -- I believe older daughter Shannon's kids -- were there as well having a good time.

We talked as if were just picking up a conversation the day or week before. I, of course, was lamenting on the direction the 2012 OCT and how things were getting as screwed up as a soup sandwich. I wasn't even going to tell Norm about how Central was holding the event up because they refused to play a doubleheader to move the tournament along or even play earlier on the day of a prom. I knew I would get a long soliloquy of how back in his time they'd play the day of their prom and then the "young ladies" as he always called them would take care of their responsibilities and afterward they could dress up for a memorable night wherever they were going.

That was "old school," which myself and others appreciated. Norm Selby understood responsibility. He nor his program ever made excuses as to why not play the day they were expected to play. That kind of attitude has sadly dwindled away these days, but that's another blog at another time.

I was there to catch up for the time I had. I had gotten to the Selby household in Bayville at about 5:15 and had some time before making the trek from their house to Toms River East for what was the tournament's "Large Schools" final, an idea to split the tournament into smaller schools and larger schools. I swear the next time somebody comes up with that idea again they should never, ever, ever be allowed to make a suggestion the rest of their lives!

But I digress. As we were talking, Karin asks me politely, "Would you like to stay for dinner? I made chicken." Now I was hesitant about it, but it did make for a moment of levity because it took me back to Norm's last day as Central Regional's softball coach.

It was Monday, June 6, 1994. Trust me, I'll get to the payoff to why I found Karin's question so amusing.

For two years, I had known that after the 1994 season, Norm was going to call it a career as Central's softball coach. He had been with the program since 1977 when he was the junior varsity coach under the late Marshall Davenport. He held that position until 1981 when Davenport stepped down and he took over the varsity program. And in 1981, he inherited an amazing varsity team. Led by pitcher Phyllis Angellella, shortstop Karen Hughes, first baseman Cindy Egnar and a dynamite senior-laden team, Central went 26-4 and won the first-ever OCT championship. And he would earn the first of what would be six Coach of the Year honors from my paper, the Observer, though I wasn't there yet in '81, nor in the spring of '84 when he got that second honor.

And between 1981-94, Selby amassed 293 victories, won the OCT title five times, won the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III title in 1986 and '88, went to the SJ IV title game in 1981, lost the SJ III championship in 1994 and made it to the Shore Conference Tournament final in 1993, losing 2-1 to Toms River North.

Most of the players on that 1993 team were back in '94. But Selby was never supposed to coach those two years -- he had announced that after Louie (his youngest child, Lorrin) was graduating in '92, he would call it a day. But he still had his niece, second baseman Jill Hirshblond, on the varsity team as a sophomore, along with a special group of sophomore young ladies that included catcher Erika Applegate, center fielder Denise Reiser, right fielder Stacy Sperling and pitcher Tara Menschner. During the summer of '92, he was persuaded to stay as the head coach.

And so he and the only coach to work with him from the start, Gloria Garibaldi, agreed to do this for two more years. And in 1993, the program went 23-3 ... but came away with no titles. Central lost in the SJ III semifinals that year and Toms River North was not only the Golden Eagles' nemesis in the SCT final, but also beat Central in the OCT semifinals, a memorable 7-4, 13-inning game played at Point Pleasant Boro.

So 1994 was the Norm Selby Farewell Tour, though it never got much hype. Central began the year on fire, winning its first 23 games. Yeah, it's easy to cover a team when it starts 23-0. All cylinders were going and in the middle of the season, Menschner passed up former Toms River South pitcher Jodi Solana as the winningest pitcher in Ocean County history when she gained No. 66.

But on May 28, 1994, Central's unbeaten run came to an end in a most stunning way -- a 4-2 loss in the OCT semifinals against provincial rival Lacey, a team the Golden Eagles owned over the previous 10 years against coach Mike Shern. But Shern's Lions found a way to exploit some mistakes made by Central.

Nonetheless, that title opportunity was gone.

Then there was the state tournament. Central made it to the SJ III final, but lost to eventual state champion Rancocas Valley, 6-2, on the same Central field that Lacey beat them just days earlier.

The hopes of one last Central title under Norm Selby were slipping away. The only tournament left for the Golden Eagles was the Shore Conference Tournament. On Memorial Day Monday, they got an ounce or two of revenge from the year before by beating North in the quarterfinals. But four days later -- June 3, 1994 -- Central, the top seed of the tournament, was facing off with No. 4 seed Ocean Township, a tremendously talented program under the tutelage of coach Mark Frankel. And it looked as if Ocean was going to end Central's season up 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning.

However, Central got two runners on base and Reiser came to the plate. I can still see the ball being struck solidly off the bat as it went out over the left fielder's head. The two runners on base scored on Reiser's triple, Central took the victory away from Ocean and bedlam ensued as players mobbed Reiser. Even the stoic Selby and Garibaldi were excited that there would be one more day.

One more game to play. That was to be on Monday, June 6, 1994, at Toms River High School East against No. 7 seed Allentown. Not only was I going to be there to cover Norm Selby's last game as coach, but I was also going to be the public address announcer as asked by tournament director and the best athletic director I ever worked with, Southern Regional's Kim DeGraw-Cole.

So the day before the final -- yes, a Sunday morning -- I got up to make the ride from my home in Toms River over to Central Regional for the last Golden Eagles softball practice of the year.

The last Central softball practice conducted by Selby and Garibaldi. I ended up staying there for two hours. It gave me a chance to get some great interviews with some of the players like Menschner and Reiser as well as listen to my new favorite player -- freshman right fielder and superstar-in-training Cheryl Zellman -- mock the cheerleader stylings of North players during their games that year.

"H-I-T ... get a hit, get a hit, get a hit." You had to be there to hear how this 14-year-old said it mockingly. Classic! But that's how Central approached its games -- it was always business, from how they conducted themselves on the field, to all of the players wearing the Central uniform the same way, all of who wore hats (that was optional at the time) and never breaking out into nauseating cheerleading-style rants. I had a nickname for Central's softball team -- Team IBM, a well-oiled machine that was only missing briefcases when they went to work. Then again, their gloves were their briefcases.

That practice, though, allowed me to see the "down-to-earth" side of these young ladies. Then again, they knew me for the four years I was there and vice-versa. It was easier. And I had known Selby since 1985 when I first started covering softball. Same thing with "G," Garibaldi's nickname.

Being the assistant sports editor at the time, I had to balance out that day of writing the preview, finishing out the weekly Ocean's Own feature, and laying out a four-page section. But I found out that my notes and quotes were so fascinating, I couldn't stop writing the preview of the game.

When it was all said and done, it was 36 inches long -- three feet of copy! And of course, the main thrust of the preview was the fact this was going to be Selby's last game as head coach, win or lose. I approached the story as if everything was going to be the last for the coach -- from the gathering of the team to the taking of the bucket of balls onto the back of the bus to the bus ride to the warming up of the team on that Monday at East to playing the game to going back to Central one last time to unloading everything for the final time.

Yes, 36 inches long. Thankfully, we had the room to put all 36 inches into the paper in 1994.

Come Monday, I had to be over at Toms River East by 3 p.m. to make sure everything was set up to do the PA for the game. Back in 1994 on that East field, our vantage point was set up a bit down the first base line, on the other side of the dugout that Allentown was going to be using, unlike today where the PA is behind home plate.

As I normally do for a game when I have to do the announcing, I always make sure to chat with the coaches and get the lineups to go over names. For some reason, the Allentown Redbird bunch, players and coaches, were as uptight as all get-go. I was searching for that proverbial stick to take out of their asses, they were so wound-up tight. I looked at them warming up and the lukewarm reception I got from head coach Robert MacReynolds said one thing to me -- this could be a loooooong day for either myself or for the Allentown Redbirds. Personally, they looked too uptight to win a title, even if they had an outstanding pitcher named Jenny Boss, who like her team was 23-3 going into the final.

On the other side, it was business as usual with Central's coaches and players. Same affable Norm Selby and Gloria Garibaldi as they gave me their lineup. In between all this, I was over by one of the wooden lunch tables that was between the field and the maintenance department shed. East coach Debbie Schwartz was over there overlooking what was going on and she had a guest sitting at the table -- it was her former pitcher, Kim Tompkins. I had done a series of stories honoring young ladies who played in previous OCTs and I had done a feature story on her 1989 victory.

There was an irony with Tompkins being there that day. In that magical 1989 season, she set the county record for victories with 26. Now she was there to watch Menschner, who came into this final with 26 wins like her team, pass her up.

The behind-the-scenes doings were more interesting than the game itself and no one had thrown a pitch yet. Bob Considine, who worked for a short time with me at the Observer before he took his talents to South Beach, err, the Asbury Park Press, got there about 20 minutes before the game. He was doing the main game story, while I was doing the column on the game.

About five minutes later, Bill McLaughlin of the Press arrived to cover the game. He asked me if I had the lineups, which I gave him. Knowing he lived in Ocean County, I figured he had seen my preview story on the game and the fact that this was Selby's last game. It was not a secret that this day was going to be it for him -- I had been writing this for two freakin' years. 

Apparently, Bill must have been the last one to know.

"What did you do -- have dinner with the Selbys?" he asked.

 I smiled. Then I answered.

"Yeah. Mrs. Selby makes a mean chicken dinner."

Soft laughter from Bill. More smiles from me.

Which brings us back to dinner with the Selbys on that late May afternoon in 2012. I got to tell that story to Norm, Karin and Lorrin and in typical Norm fashion, he smiled and said his familiar, "No foolin'! That's funny."

The story was worth the 18 years of waiting to tell. I accepted Karin's offer by the way.

As for the game, I announced both lineups, introduced the head coaches and played the national anthem. And Allentown, which won the coin toss and chose to be the home team, was on the East softball field a few minutes after 4 p.m.

The one person who was missing in the Central lineup was Sperling, who was nursing a sore ankle and was unavailable to start her final career game. In her place was Zellman, a left-hander more than capable of handling the varsity, even as a freshman.

Boss was short in stature, but she could bring it and she could effectively mix in her changeup and curve. And though Applegate got a hit in the top of the first, she was stranded there.

Allentown, a school located in the western part of Monmouth County that would be part of the Shore Conference until 1998, got things rolling against Menschner in the bottom of the first when Barbara Serbes singled to lead off. On the second pitch to Boss, Serbes took off. And Applegate threw a dart down to Selby's niece, Hirshblond, to catch her stealing second. A popout and flyout ended the first for Allentown.

In the third inning, Central had a legitimate threat. Hirshblond singled, Zellman walked and Reiser got on when the Redbirds failed to get an out on a groundball she hit to load the bases with no outs. Dana Kennett, though, did not hit a deep enough flyball to right fielder Amy Bullock to score Hirshblond. Applegate hit a laser on the first pitch, but right at second baseman Serbes for the second out. And Menschner hit a comebacker to Boss to end the frame.

A wasted opportunity. But while that chance went by the board, Menschner went about her business like she had so many times before. She walked No. 9 hitter Alison Bullock in the third, but left her stranded. That Serbes single to begin the first for the Redbirds was the only hit through four innings the calm and cool Menschner allowed.

With the game still scoreless in the fifth, No. 9 hitter Zellman launched a flyball to left field that Alison Bullock had and dropped for a two-base error. The crack was open for Central. But Boss struck out Reiser, then Dana Kennett hit a comebacker to Boss, who wheeled around and caught Zellman off base. She threw a strike to Serbes to nail Zellman for the second out.

Another blown opportunity in the making. How long can Menschner pitch and Central's defense play this well for?

Still, there were two outs and Kennett was on first and No. 3 hitter Applegate was at the plate. She hit her last shot -- the lineout to Serbes -- on the screws. Just bad luck that she didn't get on and break the scoreless tie at the time. The Golden Eagles were about to get a break when on Boss' first pitch, she uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Kennett to move into scoring position.

Here we go again. Now could Applegate deliver. The count was 2-1 when Boss threw one to Applegate's liking. She hit a grounder just out of the reach of shortstop Becky Chamberlain into left field for a base hit.

Selby was not hesitating from his third-base post. He waved his left arm around to send Kennett home and test Alison Bullock's arm. The throw came to the plate and Kennett was coming in at the same time toward catcher Mary Valentine.

No, she literally was coming in toward Valentine because the Redbirds' catcher was literally standing in the baseline and in front of home plate. Kennett couldn't go around Valentine so she did the next best thing.

I want to tell you, that crash at home plate was absolutely amazing. It was as if Valentine never knew the locomotive was barreling down on her. The ball laid on the ground about 10 feet from the sprawled out Valentine and Central had a 1-0 lead in the last game of the season.

Yep, all 5-foot-5, thin-as-a-rail Dana Kennett caused that damage. I don't remember if I smiled or was shocked, but I do know one thing ... it would have taken a lot for me to see a crash like that again the rest of my career. Just smashingly perfect.

And, of course, McReynolds came storming out of the dugout standing up for his catcher, demanding little Dana Kennett be tossed out of this game. Demanded it!! How DARE she run her down like that.

In a sense, McReynolds was right that a collision like that would get a player thrown out of a game. But not in this case -- his catcher foolishly stood in the baseline with the train (Kennett) bearing down on her never possessing the softball. Can you hear Rube Baker from "Major League II" telling Jack Parkman that the train is coming and asking, "What do you do?"

McReynolds could have argued the point all day, but Kennett wasn't getting tossed. He finally left disgruntled.

That dynamic crash at the plate signified the turning of the game's fortunes. In the bottom of the fifth, Melissa Infante singled to right field to lead off. Kristen Vranden went in to run for her. This brought up Valentine, still probably a little woozy from the home-plate crash. On a 2-2 pitch, Valentine hit a comebacker at Menschner. Menschner wheeled around to her left and threw a perfect strike to Dana Kennett coming over to second from her shortstop position. Kennett caught the ball, stepped on the base, crossed the bag and threw a strike to her twin sister Danielle at first.

To this day, I have never, ever seen a 1-6-3 double play executed on a softball diamond as perfectly as that one that Monday afternoon at Toms River East. Amy Bullock flied out to Zellman to end the inning and Menschner and her mates were protecting a 1-0 lead with six outs to get.

By the end of the top of the sixth, the task would become much, much easier. Junior left fielder April Rose, one of the unsung heroes of this Central team, rocketed Boss' third pitch of the inning to the left-center field gap for a triple to lead off. After Danielle Kennett reached first on a fielder's choice that kept Rose at third and stole second, sophomore third baseman Dana Cook delivered a single to left to score Rose to make it 2-0 as Kennett moved to third. Hirshblond hit a grounder to shortstop Chamberlain, who flubbed it for an error to make it 3-0. She stole second to put runners on second and third with no outs still.

Zellman singled to right to score Cook, making it 4-0.

Central had finally gotten to Boss. Now Reiser was about to put the final nail in Allentown's coffin. On a 1-1 pitch, Reiser went to the opposite-field gap. There was no fence on East's field, so Reiser and the runners on base could run all day if they wanted to. Hirshblond and Zellman scored and Reiser ultimately stopped at third.

Yep, another Denise Reiser triple when the stakes were at their highest. This time, though, the triple didn't finish a comeback.

It was finishing out a rout. Dana Kennett hit a grounder toward Boss. Whether Reiser rattled Boss or not, I can't remember, but Boss' throw went over first baseman Sheryl Fodera's head for an error, easily allowing Reiser to score the seventh run.

And Central still had no outs. The 10-run rule was not out of the question, especially after Central loaded the bases with two outs later in the inning, but Boss got Cook to ground out to second to end the threat.

Central had sent 12 batters to the plate to get six runs on six hits and got helped out by two errors.

The competitive phase of the 1994 Shore Conference Tournament championship was over.

Menschner set the Redbirds down in order in the sixth. Like I said earlier, Allentown looked way too tense and tight to win a championship on this day. Central got two hits in the seventh, but could not score, leaving it up to the defense to finish out the perfect way to end the season.

And a coaching career.

Suddenly, reality was setting in. On the field, Menschner admitted later she started to tear up when she realized this was going to be the last inning. And it hit Selby, too. He still had one bit of unfinished business to attend to -- he took Zellman out of the game and put Sperling into right field to play the seventh inning ... and finish her career with her four senior teammates and friends on the field.

All I had left to do was the announcing and to cue up Queen's "We Are The Champions" for the end.

Menschner kept it together. Boss hit a textbook comebacker to Menschner, probably the 652nd one she fielded in her four-year pitching career at Central. One out. Fodera was next. She hit a lazy flyball that Reiser had probably tracked down hundreds of times before.

Two outs. One left to get. It was designated hitter Suzanne Potts. Menschner got the count to 1-2. Then one last riser.

A popup on the right side. It was all happening right in front of me. Hirshblond went back. Sperling went in. What an incredible way for a season to end -- to see the injured senior who lost the last half of her season coming in to snag the last flyball of her career and send she and her senior classmates to a memorable championship.

That didn't happen. However, another senior caught the last ball. Hirshblond pocketed the popup and the celebration began for Team IBM, who let their guard down and let the emotions flow freely.

"We Are The Champions" played and players and coaches hugged. Just after 6 p.m., it was over. Central Regional had that elusive Shore Conference Tournament championship with a 7-0 victory and it came in Norm Selby's final day as head coach.

"We Are The Champions" finished playing and we had a trophy ceremony to go through. I wanted the fans who were there to witness this history to give both teams a hand for the effort they gave on this day. On the field, I had every one glue their eyes on DeGraw-Cole as she was about to hand Selby, Garibaldi and their players their SCT championship.

"Congratulations to Central Regional and head coach Norm Selby, coaching his final game today with Central, on their first SCT championship. That ends the tournament. Thank you for coming and please drive home safely."

Then I grabbed another cassette I had worked on and had another song ready to play on the way out. But the song wouldn't come on! About 10 seconds went by with me trying to figure out what was going on. Eventually, I found the spot on the tape where it began. And when I did, I let the song play from start to finish.

It was Frank Sinatra's "My Way," an appropriate song to go out to. In the office later on, Bob tells me, "I'm on the field (to do interviews) and you put that song on and I couldn't get anything out of anybody because they all started crying!"

Sorry, Bob. I still had to do my interviews. And they were all still pretty emotional about the victory -- a true storybook ending no less. They cleared up the sniffles and tears enough to talk. And as I finished talking to the players and Garibaldi, I can see Selby over by home plate talking to arguably the best softball player he coached, Michelle Carlson, although he coached her on varsity one season before she transferred to East and had an All-State high school career, then had a memorable turn at Trenton State College in which she was two-time NCAA Division III Player of the Year.

Norm comes back to the dugout and I asked him what he and Michelle talked about. When she left to go to East in 1988, I felt there was a little consternation between the two of them, but she maintained all along -- even to this day -- that the transfer had nothing to do with softball. It wasn't her choice.

"Same ol' Central," he told me about what she had told hm. "Pitching and defense."

They had a nice conversation, no animosities. Never any animosities. Michelle Carlson could have been an All-State player at Central Regional, too. The respect was a very healthy one.

We chatted and he told me something that seemed so profound.

 "There's a phrase that epitomizes our program," he started. "Basically, if we keep trying, someday we'll get it right."

And Selby and his players got it perfectly right on the last day of his tenure as Central's coach. The only way Menschner could have pitched better for her 77th and last career win was if she threw a perfect game. She gave up two hits and walked one. That was more than good enough. And the Central defense was perfect, not committing one error in the championship. Defense was always something Norm Selby preached in his 14-year career as Golden Eagles coach.

He also told me that people still didn't believe that this game was his last as Central's coach. But, as he said, he wasn't "BS'ing them." He really was calling it a career as he and his team exited East's field and made that final trip back to Bayville to unload the bus and take that bucket of balls back to where they kept it all those years.

This championship day was done Norm Selby's way. The 294th victory was the sweetest of all his triumphs. And it was emotional. And it was the last game of the season.

And Norm, Karin and I talked about that day for a little bit over the chicken dish that Mrs. Selby made. A lot of good memories of that particular day.

Oh, and Mrs. Selby does make a mean chicken dinner.