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Thursday, June 23, 2016

The last Lakewood OCT softball win

By 1991, the Ocean County Softball Tournament was being run by Lakewood head coach Dave McKelvey. McKelvey was the first person I met who ran this tournament that truly and undeniably cared about not just running a smooth event, but running one in which the players were the showcase and that everyone would play on the same field.

And he was so excited about this concept when he first came to me with it in 1989 that he wanted me to come on board as the "official statistician" for the event. You see, he was going to hand out not just a first-place and second-place team trophy and tournament Most Valuable Player, but he was also going to hand out new awards such as Top Hitter, Top Fielder and Top Pitcher, though the Top Pitcher honor was going to the pitcher who won the championship.

So for the third year running with me as the official "statistician," Dave and I ran things with the tournament. The tournament began on Saturday, May 11, and for the first time, another site was being used to run the first two rounds. Point Pleasant Boro High School softball coach John Natoli had wanted in, especially coming off an 18-6 season in 1990 and a Class C Division title. He thought it'd be a great showcase for his field to host the first two rounds. McKelvey agreed and it actually took some pressure off of him to run the whole tournament on his field because adult leagues were being played on that field, and though he had a major part of the adult league, he really didn't want to screw up that league's schedule.

On this particular Saturday, a very unusually cool and damp day near the ocean and canal, the tournament kicked off with four games. Twelve teams entered the tournament as Point Pleasant Beach, Manchester and Brick Memorial opted not to enter that year. And the Top 4 seeds of this particular year's event – No. 1 Toms River North, No. 2 seed Brick, No. 3 Toms River South and No. 4 Lacey – drew byes and didn't have to be at Point Boro for this day. On top of that, both No. 9 seed Toms River East and No. 8 Southern Regional had agreed to play the Monday after because coaches Dick Manzo of Southern and Joe Armino of Toms River East had a prior commitment that they wouldn't be able to get out of.

So on this particular afternoon and evening, there'd be three games. The first game was scheduled for noon between Pinelands, the No. 11 seed and coached by field hockey mentor Pam Boyd, against venerable No. 6 seed Central Regional, having an off-season for the program, but still competitive under coach Norm Selby. The Golden Eagles easily wiped out Pinelands in 4 1/2 innings, 14-3, to advance to the quarterfinals.

But because the game went by so quickly, Natoli and I had plenty of time between that game and the one at 5 p.m. between seventh-seeded Jackson Memorial and No. 10 seed Lakewood. With all that time and it's 1:30 in the afternoon, I remember packing up my stuff, heading back to Toms River, eating lunch my mom put in front of me (some sandwich, I can't even begin to tell you what it was) and by 3:15 p.m., I was on my way back to Point Pleasant Boro's field, which I got to just around 3:45 p.m. (I thank goodness it wasn't Memorial Day weekend yet!)

Jackson Memorial arrived early to take grounders and do any hitting practice. The field wasn't beaten up too badly after the first game, but the dampness may have begun to start affecting the way the ball was being held by anyone as the cloudy, yucky, grey skies were beginning to darken. Efficient as he would always be for the 20 years he ran the program, Jackson coach Al Aires told me where I could find his lineup card and assistant coach Gloria Calabro pointed to the spot to grab it.

By just after 4 p.m., Lakewood arrived. McKelvey was ready, but he had one little concern on this late afternoon – he was without his shortstop, arguably his best player on the team. Not only was senior Addie Dix a terrific softball player for Lakewood's Piners, she was also an even better bowler who in 1989 won the NJSIAA girls state championship in the sport at Carolier Lanes in North Brunswick as a sophomore. And on this particular Saturday, she was participating in a bowling tournament somewhere up in northern New Jersey.

Without Dix in his lineup to begin with because he knew up front she was going to be a little late, McKelvey had to maneuver players around. His standout center fielder, Jen Cranley, had to start at second base. His normal second baseman, Maryann Nalerio, had to move to shortstop. And Stacey Montgomery would have to patrol Cranley's territory of center field until Dix got there. Without question, McKelvey was antsy. So, too, was his longtime assistant coach, Bob Sattan.

Everything pointed toward a Jaguar rout. Everything. With Dix in the starting lineup, the Piners got creamed in two games this particular season, being no-hit in one game, 15-0, and getting hammered, 20-6, just three days prior! Three days! 

I had all but moved Jackson into the quarterfinal round, especially the fact the Jaguars were making a forward progress toward being one of the Shore's best teams by the end of the 1990s. For now, they were a team in training led by a strong top of the lineup featuring second baseman Michelle Schenck, first baseman Michelle Nikolayew, third baseman Kerri Sherman and center fielder and main power hitter Brenda Letts. Their main pitcher was senior Andrea Fitzgerald, who got the start in this one.

Even if Dix gets to the game, how bad is the deficit going to be? We were going to find out as the Piners took their swings in the top of the first inning, the lights switched on by now.

Alicia Intramasso, the Piners' first baseman and No. 3 hitter, singled and advanced to second on an error by right fielder Rose Esposito. An error on a Vassone Barrett groundball by Schenck put runners on first and third. But Fitzgerald induced catcher Jessica Forse into ... naturally ... a forceout to end the inning.

So it didn't turn out well, the top of the first. How would the bottom of the first go for the Piners in the field.

Well, turns out not so well.

Montgomery swallowed up Schenck's flyball. But on a 1-0 delivery from pitcher Jen Zerbe, Nikolayew hammered a shot to left field. It found the gap on this big field and kept rolling and rolling and rolling. By the time the ball got back to the infield, Nikolayew had smacked an inside-the-park home run, her first career OCT four-bagger. Just like that, 1-0.

I can see McKelvey encouraging his Piners to settle down and just get the last two outs of the inning. They weren't going to be easy, though. Sherman delivered a double. A wild pitch moved her up to third and Letts smashed a single to center to make it 2-0. Fitzgerald reached on a single and a bunt single by Kathy Murphy loaded the bases.

This makeshift Piners lineup was starting to feel like it was deja vu all over again versus these better Jaguars. Zerbe settled down to strike Esposito for the second out. But Jaguars catcher Michelle Anton singled to right. Two runners came home and it was 4-0.

Up stepped No. 9 hitter Lisa McCloud. On a 1-1 pitch, Zerbe uncorked a wild pitch to the backstop. Now keep in mind that the Point Boro backstop is not very big from plate to fence. But somehow, Murphy, who was on third, didn't quite get the message. Forse hunted the ball down and fired to Zerbe at the plate to nail Murphy and end the inning.

Somehow, that painful mistake by Murphy took the Piners off the hook and the Jaguars walked away with a 4-0 lead after the first. Still, down 4-0 isn't all that warm and fuzzy to anyone, especially these undermanned Piners, who must have been looking in the parking lot behind them on the third-base side of the field every few minutes hoping that their shortstop and leader would be joining them.

Though right fielder Missy Zielinski reached on a walk, two popouts, and a forceout ended the inning without anything happening.

But as the half-inning came to an end, out of a car in the parking lot popped an African-American girl with glasses on and donning a Piner uniform. I knew who it was from a distance.

Addie Dix had finally arrived. And as soon as she got her cleats on and found her way to the Piner bench, McKelvey was coming out to tell the umpire that he had some changes. Back to center field went Cranley. Back to second base went Nalerio. And replacing Montgomery in the lineup in the ninth slot, but now at her normal shortstop position, was Dix, taking groundballs before the bottom of the second and having to just "go with it" from there.

And wouldn't you know it – the very first batter up, McCloud, hit a grounder right at Dix, who fielded it and threw a groundball that skipped past Intromasso and out of play since there was no fence beyond the first-base bench. McCloud took second. A wild pitch would move McCloud to third.

Welcome to the game, Addie!

Zerbe got Schenck to pop out to Intromasso for the first out. But that brought up Nikolayew and after that first at-bat, Zerbe wanted nothing to do with the Jaguars' most talented player. She put her on base. It was obvious that the Jaguars were going to try a double steal and Nikolayew took off for second, right on cue. But Forse fired the ball that Zerbe cut off and for a split second, this caught McCloud off guard. She stepped toward heading home, and a perfect throw to third baseman Kim Estelle by the pitcher nailed her for the second out.

Between the Murphy and Estelle gaffes, the Piners were staying in this one. Sherman walked, but Letts flied out to Zielinski to end the inning.

The third inning began uneventful as Cranley grounded out to first baseman Nikolayew.

But Nalerio delivered a single to get aboard. Intromasso hit a groundball that shortstop Jeana Hansen muffed and runners were on first and second. Barrett was hit by a pitch and the bases were suddenly loaded with one out. Forse hit a grounder that ate up Hansen for yet another error, allowing Nalerio to score. Zielinski hit into a forceout at second, allowing Intromasso to score, making it 4-2. Estelle was hit by a pitch to load the bases again, but Zerbe hit a forceout that Schenck made the play on.

The Piners had cut into the lead and were feeling much better about things down 4-2. They had their best player back and now they were starting to answer the bell. Zerbe was also gaining important confidence a starting pitcher normally needs. She got flyouts to Barrett and Cranley and a strikeout swinging by Esposito for the second time to keep it at 4-2 going to the fourth.

Dix was to get her first at-bat of the game and she lined a single on a 1-0 pitch from Fitzgerald into left field to get things going. When Murphy flubbed getting the ball for an error, Dix moved up to second.

The spark had been lit and the top of the lineup was now next with Cranely. Dix would move to third on a wild pitch and Cranley would eventually walk on a 3-1 pitch. Cranley would steal second, but Hansen would try to pick Dix off third. The ball got away and out of play, allowing Dix to score and Cranley to move up to third, making it 4-3. Nalerio lofted a sacrifice fly to Letts in center, deep enough to score the senior Cranley to tie it up at 4-4.

It was a new game and suddenly, the Lakewood Piners had all sorts of confidence going for them. In the fourth, Zerbe got a popout and a groundout before Schenck walked, bringing up Nikolayew again. She hit the first offering from Zerbe on the screws, but right at Dix, who flipped to Nalerio at second to end the inning.

The Jaguar bench was next to me and I can suddenly see the concern. This wasn't supposed to happen at all. They had scored 35 runs in two games against the Piners, yet after four innings, they had four. Maybe they were hoping for a late surge. But looking on Aires' face told me he sensed something wasn't right with his team on this dreary day.

In the fifth inning, the Piners began to get to Fitzgerald as if they were chopping down a tree. An error by Nikolayew off a Force grounder got the inning started. A Zielinski forceout at second put her on base with one out. A groundball by Estelle had the Jaguars trying to get Zielinski at second for a force, but they were late in the attempt. Zerbe lined out to Nikolayew for the second out, but now it was Dix at the plate. She walked on four pitches to load the bases for Cranley.

The most unheralded talent on this Piner team, Cranley worked out a walk to force home Zielinski, making it 5-4 in favor of the Piners. That brought up Nalero. On a 1-2 delivery, she hammered a shot to right-center field for a single. Estelle scored easily and McKelvey sent Dix home behind her to make it 7-4. Intromasso followed with a single to center to bring home Cranley from second.

What once was a 4-0 deficit now was an 8-4 lead going to the bottom of the fifth after Barnett lined out to Hansen.

The Jaguars found a little bit of what they did in the first inning. With one out, Letts singled, followed by another single by Fitzgerald and a sacrifice bunt by Murphy gone awry when Zerbe threw the ball away for an error, allowing Letts to score and moving the other runners up into scoring position.

Already a strikeout victim twice, Aires had Esposito, a very good bunter, put down a squeeze bunt that scored Fitzgerald and moved Murphy to third. Anton took a 1-0 offering from Zerbe for a ride, but Cranley could cover a lot of area out in center field and she tracked the ball down to end the threat and keep it an 8-6 game.

McKelvey was still concerned. Though Zielinski reached on another Jaguars error and moved to second on a wild pitch, she was left stranded there by two flyball outs that ended the inning. The Jaguars were bringing up McCloud, then Schenck and Nikolayew. Zerbe had to hold the fort down and up 8-6, it was tenuous on how much this lead was going to hold.

Zerbe, though, handled it well at the start. She struck out McCloud and got Schenck to ground out to Estelle. She walked Nikolayew, though, and a wild pitch put her on second base with two outs.

This brought up Sherman. On a 3-2 pitch, she lined a single to left. Barrett got the ball and fired the ball back to the infield. Nikolayew scored easily, and they had Sherman dead to rights out trying to get to second. However, Zerbe's throw sailed by Nalerio and into right-center field.

This was a disaster. I can feel it.

Sherman got up from her slide and headed to third and now Aires was waving her home to tie the game. But on the play, Cranley was alert to rush over to collect the ball as soon as it took off out of Zerbe's hand. She set herself up and fired a one-hop strike to the plate. Just as Forse was getting the ball from Cranley, Sherman was pile-driving into Forse at the plate in a bang-bang collision.

Sprawled out, Forse showed the home-plate umpire the ball and called Sherman out. The collision was simply unavoidable. Forse had most of the plate and was in Sherman's way.

Nonetheless, Cranley and Forse had saved the day for the Piners, keeping it an 8-7 game going to the seventh.

Unhappy with how she threw a good amount of the day, Aires replaced Fitzgerald with Jen Burke in the circle to start the seventh. Fitzgerald went out to left field, Murphy went in to play first and Nikolayew, who was to be the full-time shortstop in the 1992 season, moved over to short.

And just like the fourth inning, it would be No. 9 hitter Dix starting the seventh inning. She roped a single to left field to begin it. Dix stole second and Cranley walked. Up stepped Nalero. She singled to left field, her third hit of the game, to bring in Dix from second, making it 9-7 and giving the Piners a little breathing room.

It didn't stop there, though. An Intromasso fielder's choice loaded the bases and an error by Nikolayew off a Barrett grounder scored Cranley, making it 10-7. Forse walked to force home Nalerio. One out later, pinch-hitter Venus Hunter, a big-sized freshman, smashed a single to left to score Intromasso. And an error by Sherman plated Barrett.

By the time the inning ended, Lakewood had plated five runs on three hits, helped by two errors and sent 11 batters to the plate.

The competitive phase of this Ocean County Tournament game was all but over. Though Aires kept trying to get the girls up, you could see they were too shell-shocked by what happened to them on this afternoon. Zerbe got Letts to fly out to Cranley, gave up a single to Fitzgerald, then got another flyout to Cranley off Murphy's bat. She struck out Esposito for the third time, this time looking, to finish out a 13-7 triumph that no one saw.

Not me. Not anyone smart enough to know the county softball scene. Not Jackson people. Maybe not even some Lakewood doubters.

But there they were, the Piners celebrating the win, moving on to the quarterfinals for the first time since beating Brick Memorial in a 1988 first-round game.

McKelvey, a soft-spoken man for the most part who eventually handed over the reins of the OCT to myself and new Point Boro coach Ric Malta the next year, told me after the victory, "After the first inning, I thought, 'Oh, here we go again.' But they hung in tough."

You could have heard a pin drop after the game on the Jackson Memorial side. Not only did the Jaguars lose, they lost to a team they practically owned all season long. And a sullen-looking Aires walked toward me as he headed on the bus back to the school as afternoon became evening. The 10 errors his team made on this day drained him in all facets.

"Just not our day," he told me. "Lakewood deserves credit for hitting the ball, but simply not our day. We'll learn from this."

Starting in 1992, Jackson Memorial would be a semifinalist in the OCT every year through 2000, making the finals in 1993, '95, '96, '98 and '99 and winning it all in '96 and '99.

This game was simply a lesson in humility. The Jaguars had overall better talent on paper than the Piners, but they don't play games on paper.

The next game after the Lakewood-Jackson game was the host Panthers against No. 12 seed Monsignor Donovan and the Panthers treated the Griffins like they stole something, whipping them, 15-0.

A week later back on the Point Boro field on an even drearier afternoon and night, Lakewood could do nothing against Brick fireballer Viki Kara, who struck out 10 and held the Piners to three hits in a 10-3 triumph. Cranley could get nothing going, finishing 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and Dix, back in the No. 2 slot in the lineup, had a hit and a run in three trips to the plate. Nalerio, who had three hits in the win over Jackson, was 0-for-4 with an RBI.

Little did anyone know that would be the last time Lakewood High would play in an OCT quarterfinal-round game, at least not for the next 25 years. Softball had pretty much been wiped off the map of competitive sports at LHS after Dix and Cranley had graduated. Every year, no matter if it was McKelvey, who coached the program three more years before retiring, or anyone else who took over after, it was a struggle since there was absolutely, positively no feeder program to ever make Lakewood better at softball.

So that's a major reason why that game in 1991 was historic, both for good and bad reasons.

The scorebook I used that day has yellowed a bit over the years ... and it was done in pencil. I don't do games in pencil anymore! That's how long ago this game was.

It was a small and wonderful moment in time for the Lakewood Piners softball players and coaches.

Maybe their last for over a generation.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The team with the target takes the SCT title

The Toms River High School East girls soccer team was in another orbit by the first week of June 1985.

The Raiders were fresh off proving they were Ocean County's best club after holding back equally talented Monsignor Donovan in a Shore Conference Tournament semifinal by a 3-2 score that wasn't as close as that score indicated.

The Raiders were 16-1-1, the tie coming in the fifth game of the season against Toms River South, 1-1, the loss coming in early May to Toms River North, 2-1, the winning goal in that one a rocket launcher by Barbara Hedrick for what would be her only goal of the season that Raiders coach Ed Polhemus believed should have been stopped.

So on the phone that night after he reported his loss, Polhemus had made this one promise:

"Nancy Hearne is going to go back into goal," he said. "We're not going to let this happen again."

I've never told that story before in over 30 years since that fateful night. What I heard on the phone was a very low-keyed, soft-spoken man who obviously was stung by a North team that was good that year (10-6), but couldn't be better than his Raiders.

There was quite a lot of pressure on the Raiders that spring, my first as a sports reporting correspondent at the Observer. The Raiders were Ocean County's best team in 1984, winning the last county championship game on a sweltering, warm night at North against Donovan, 3-0, spoiling Donovan's attempt at an unbeaten season.

More importantly, most of the players on Polhemus' squad were returning for the 1985 season, including young ladies I grew up around in my life as I graduated from East just the year before, around-the-corner neighbor Denice McKenna, her buddy Karen Carlisle and Hearne, who was the All-County goalie on the Observer team in 1984. But as the season began, Polhemus believed his team would be much better if they moved Hearne onto the field to play defense. This really cool girl I knew in high school was a soccer talent, regardless of where Polhemus put her on the field.

Hearne was surrounded by defenders who were equally talented in what they did -- midfielder McKenna, stopper Sue Lauterborn, fullback Barbara Applegate and tall sweeper Leda Fenton, a smooth-working junior who by the end of the year became the most dominant defensive player in the county.

Their job was to make a younger, first-year goalkeeper feel comfortable and let her grow in the position. And it was working because East's defense had surrendered just six goals in 10 games in building a 9-0-1 record.

But then came the night of the North game. Two goals slipped past the goalie that should've been stopped.

End of experiment. Hearne back in the goal. Michele Adamkowski, who had a role in the defense most of the season, got moved into the main defender position to work with Applegate, who was on the other side defender spot. Polhemus had trusted his defense enough that he could make this move, but in the process, he alienated a young lady who never played soccer for him again.

The Raiders bounced back from the loss to North with wins over Shore Regional and Southern Regional, then stopped South in the rematch, 3-1, before pulling out a 2-1, double-overtime victory over Brick Memorial.

They had their hiccup and moved along. The Raiders were given the top seed for the inaugural Shore Conference Tournament in the third week of May. At 13-1-1, they looked tough to stop and right as the favorite. But unlike most coaches who downplay being the target everyone is shooting for, Polhemus was a far different cat than that.

He actually brought it on! "The only team that can beat us is ourselves," he would tell me once that season.

The man wasn't lacking for confidence. Ed Polhemus was way different than anyone else coaching the sport. When I'd throw that line out to other girls soccer coaches, I'd get a variety of responses, from rolled eyes to head shakes to pregnant pauses, followed by, "OK, if he says so."

So with targets on their backs and fronts, East went out in its opening game of the tournament at home at its then-home of Shelter Cove Park and put on a methodical display of precision soccer in a 2-0 victory over No. 16 seed  Point Pleasant Beach. About the only thing the Raiders didn't do was put the ball in the back of the net, but two goals worked on this day.

The next game would be Tuesday, May 28, at Shelter Cove Park again versus No. 9 seed Jackson Memorial, led by two talented All-County seniors in midfielders Sue Leahy and April Williams. Their coach was Mike Costa, who couldn't have cared less about Polhemus' quiet bluster -- he actually liked Polhemus, though his Jaguars were maybe the most physical of any in the Class A South opponents that East played in. The score this time was, like the last game, 2-0, but the Raiders had to work a little harder for this one as Hearne made a couple of key saves in the game to keep the Jaguars off the scoreboard.

With half the mission done, the next stop was the semifinal matchup with Donovan and its talented senior class that included leading scorer Stephanie Harmon, midfielder Barbara Callaghan, defender Barbara Indiero and goalie Maureen McShea. East built a 3-0 lead into the fourth quarter until a couple of mistakes led to two penalty kicks that freshman Liz Rehak converted into goals. Still, Donovan could not get the equalizer and East got off its field with a 3-2 victory.

So knocking off the fifth-seeded Griffins after knocking down No. 9 Jackson Memorial should have been a step closer to coronation as Shore queens, especially when the other side of the 16-team bracket saw upsets happen to No. 2 seed Wall and No. 3 seed Middletown North. In the end, the opponent for East's finale would be ... coach Gene Tutzauer's No. 11 seed Freehold Township Patriots, which upset its way to the finale.

Tutzauer was not only as down to earth a coach as you will ever meet, but he was throwing a deaf ear at Polhemus, who still was boasting about not only his own team's place in the Shore, but in the state, too, stating that if everyone played at the same time, he'd be an NJSIAA Group IV champion.

Tutzauer had three players that helped run the engine to this point in the tournament. Two of them were up front in forwards Irene Harth and Joyce Flood. The other was the "game-changer," another senior standout in Ami Scheinberg, her presence coming to the forefront throughout the tournament. Like Polhemus, Tutzauer had a quiet confidence going in, relishing the fact no one gave his team a chance against mighty, mighty East.

I knew this would be a great matchup, regardless of the seeds. And so that night, I had the choice of covering either this game or the Toms River South-Lakewood Ocean County Softball Tournament title game. Actually, my boss made the decision easier by sending me to the SCT soccer final because by this point, I could be trusted to turn a story around quickly. And I knew my target after the game to do all this was at the local Pizza Hut on Route 35 in Wall Township, not far from where I was going for the first time in my career as a journalist -- Wall Township High School, the designated site for the championship.

And so I was in "comfortable" garb for a 65-degree night on Tuesday, June 4, 1985. I arrived without much of a problem (the directions to the school were made easy by the wonderful dispatcher for the Wall Township police department). I can still see the outfit I wore in my head: A sleeveless, 1980s style white shirt with a button-up collar that Rick Springfield would be  proud of and a pair of blue OP-made rippled shorts, wearing socks and basketball sneakers.

Yes, I was comfortable. The area around Wall High's soccer/football field is extremely tight and allows little walking room between the field and the fence, so if anything, I was going to have to walk around benches and players, not that they cared at that point, for the entire game.

I asked Polhemus and assistant coach Rob Czarniewski how they were doing. Polhemus shrugged his shoulders and had an answer that resembled something out of, "It's up to them now."

These Raiders weren't just about defense. Yes, their defense was great, but they did score goals, led by Carlisle's 12 goals. After that, a whole bunch of Raiders followed in scoring: Linda Anderson was the next highest-scoring goal scorer with seven, followed by sophomore Stacy Komisar at five goals, Fenton and Bonnie Krall with four goals and four others -- Adamkowski, Lauterborn, McKenna and Applegate -- with three.

In other words, pick your poison on who was going to bury you for that game. Polhemus had so many options to go to and none of them were afraid to contribute. Defense, though, was the No. 1 priority with Polhemus, so that may be why the leading scorer on the team had 12 goals.

Viewing Freehold Township on the other side, I could see Tutzauer with arms folded watching his girls and watching him watch Scheinberg go through a regimen of hard shots that she was getting her hands on. From viewing that, I had a premonition she was set for anything East threw her way.

Mere moments into the game in front of a nice-sized crowd, East collected a corner kick. So not far from where Anderson was standing, I watched her take the kick into the box, a well-placed boot I might add. Out of nowhere came 5-foot-10 Fenton from her sweeper role to put a head on the ball ... lightning fast all this was happening, too.

Scheinberg didn't have a chance. But she was bailed out -- the ball hit the bottom of the crossbar and bounced back to the goalkeeper before anyone else could get a foot on the ball. I saw Fenton with strong defensive ability, but not with that kind of offensive threat in her.

It was just three minutes into the game and East was already going at it. And East didn't stop. Fifteen minutes of this was becoming too much for Scheinberg and her teammates. And at 15:22, the Raiders finally got to the goalie. Anderson fired another corner kick toward the edge of the box where McKenna got it and flicked a shot onto the goal. Both Komisar and Krall got to the ball near each other and got it past Scheinberg from a short distance with the help of a Patriots defender's body deflecting it, not making it easier for the Freehold goalie. Komisar was credited with the goal and the Raiders had the 1-0 lead.

Freehold Township put some pressure on East's defense as the second quarter of the game arrived. But each time the Patriots had something, East's defense would have an answer. And when East's defense sent the ball down the other end, it was the quick sophomore pair of Komisar and Krall who would pick the ball up and give East's defense a rest.

And when it looked as if East might put the game away, there was Scheinberg shining in her final game as Patriots goalie to knock away potential game-breaking goals. With 6:22 to go before halftime, Scheinberg was tested again, this time by Carolyn Anderson, another of East's pesky, fast forwards. She beat the defender on her and found herself one-on-one with Scheinberg. Scheinberg came out to get the ball before Anderson could make a kick and the two collided.

Anderson came out of it OK, but Scheinberg didn't. She laid on that Wall field for a good three minutes, the stadium getting silent watching carefully Wall's trainer and Tutzauer tended to the goalkeeper. Finally, she stood up and walked off the field, a bit dazed. After a minute or so, though, she would come back into the game for the backup keeper.

The game got to halftime and while Scheinberg seemed to be better, East went into its huddle looking confident, feeling like it was "business as usual." Polhemus knew to expect a tough game from this gutty bunch, so to him, it was just popping in a few more goals.

But after halftime, Freehold Township came out rejuvenated and began getting the better of the play from an East team that looked like it still hadn't come out of the halftime ceremonies that saw both Red Bank Catholic (Monmouth County) and Lacey (Ocean County) receive their Sportsmanship of the Year honors from the Jersey Shore Soccer Officials Association.

And just outside of East's box, Harth let loose with a rocket launcher from 22 yards -- a shot that still was taking off with mighty force toward the bottom of the crossbar. This was the goal that was about to tie the game and turn this first-ever SCT final around, only two minutes into the second half.

However, that may have happened with East's former goalie. Nancy Hearne was in goal and she put every ounce of her 5-7 body into reaching as high as she could and knocking the game-tying goal over the crossbar with her right hand and out of danger.

This was the play of the game. This is why Ed Polhemus felt the need that a change in goal with a more established netminder was important. Period. By the end of the night, the outgoing, brown-eyed young lady finished with 10 saves, that stop of Harth easily the biggest save of the night.

Freehold Township didn't give in, though. The Patriots' offense continued to put pressure on the Raider defense, mainly due to the fast front it had. But once again, East's defense was up to the task, protecting Hearne and the goal like it was Fort Knox.

Said Tutzauer after the game to me, "When I saw the goal scored, I knew East's defense was coming. They're one of the best we've seen all year. We had opportunities, but they did the job on us."

The Patriots put one more effort into cracking East's defense with minutes to go as a ball got sent into the box, but Fenton kicked it out of trouble. Another attempt and Applegate, having to deal with Harth most of the game, got the ball out of trouble.

Wash, rinse, repeat. That was East's defense on this evening.

Scheinberg was at her absolute best with 15 saves, proving she was Monmouth County's best goalie. Her effort would have helped lead to a Freehold Township title that night.

But not against East's ferocious defense and "tenacious sharks" as Polhemus would call his offense. The final whistle sounded and East had the first-ever Shore Conference Tournament championship, 1-0, capping a second straight 17-1-1 season, proving they were the Shore's best.

Still sounding assured and confident and not raising his voice a whole lot, Polhemus would say after the game, "I'm happy with my team's performance. All season long, I've been stressing team play and I'm happy about that. They were all tenacious sharks."

Fenton was all smiles. So was Adamkowski. Most of East's team was. I was happiest for McKenna, Carlisle and Hearne, the three girls I knew from my friendship with the McKenna family and with Denice. Everyone should walk away a champion in their final game, but unless you win that last game, most notably a championship, that is never going to happen in life.

The night got cooler as the game went on and my bare shoulders and legs were starting to feel it. So after it was over, I walked off the field, into the parking lot and pulled away in my 1973 Chevy Chevelle and back onto Route 35 and toward the Pizza Hut. As I ate my dinner of spaghetti and meatballs that night, I began to write my story in the notebook I carried for the game. It was a characteristic of mine to jot a story down from start to finish when I was on the road and I either couldn't get back to the office in time to write the story or just say silently, "I am sooooo not going back to the office." To this day, I still have that notebook and the five pages inside of it that entailed the story.

Long before we had the Radio Shack Tandys that would make writing and sending stories so much easier, I had to call collect off something that seems foreign today -- a pay phone. Once they knew it was from me and accepted, I told my boss East won, then he handed me over to Chris, our main sports writer who was a speed demon at taking dictation, something I learned to do with relative ease within due time.

I read Chris my story verbatim and whatever he did in editing was minor. The process took about 20 minutes to do, then he asked the boss if there was anything else that was needed for which he said there wasn't. I finished what I was doing and left the Pizza Hut at around 11:15 p.m.

The ride back to Toms River on Route 35, then Route 70 and Hooper Avenue took about 25 minutes and I was home. Now knowing my neighbors, the McKennas, very, very, very well, I figured once I parked the car on the street like I normally did, I could walk through the passageway between my home and their home, past their basketball court in their backyard and to the house and sure as night is dark there'd be some kind of party going on there. The McKenna house was a hub for that.

The professional side of this 18-year-old didn't want to do it, but hey, I was off work. I didn't care at that point. As I went further into that backyard, I could hear the noise like a party was going on. And there it was -- a party! I saw Flo, the McKenna matriarch and head of the household there, smiling face and inviting me in. I walked around the house and saw plenty of East soccer girls celebrating the title. I won't go further into the details, other than it was a very good time for all who came to visit.

As I walked around, I got near the front door and there was Stacy Komisar and Bonnie Krall, who lived across the street from the McKennas. I congratulated Komisar on the goal and the first thing she said to me, "I didn't score. She scored it." She was pointing to Krall, the baby of four sisters in her family. Then she explained that she was closer to the ball and had gotten to it first. Maybe I was obscured of the view, but everyone on the East side seemed to be convinced it was Komisar's goal off the McKenna assist.

For the record, though, these last 30 or so years, Stacy Komisar is credited with scoring the first-ever SCT girls soccer championship game goal ... even if she says Bonnie Krall did it.

After about a half hour, I headed back through the woods and finally into my house where mom wondered where I went to.

"East won. McKennas holding a party. I stopped in."

That was pretty much it.

East had a lot of representatives on the All-County team that year, but the one who should have been on that team was Nancy Hearne. But she wasn't the best defensive player when on the field. Players like Sue Lauterborn and, of course, Denice McKenna and Leda Fenton, were better and honored. And as for the whole goalie thing for All-County, I went with Lacey's up-and-coming star Juliann Schlossareck, who had played the whole season in net and was part of an unbeaten Lacey team until the Lions were knocked out by Donovan in the SCT quarterfinals.

Nancy Hearne was the kind of player you wanted on your soccer team, no matter where you put her. I'm sure she could have thrived as a forward. Problem is she wasn't outstanding in any of the field positions and the one place she was outstanding she didn't even play half the season there.

Everytime I saw her after the team came out, I felt bad. I really did. This beautiful yound lady no more than 10 months younger than me deserved praise and I couldn't give it to her. I saw Nancy Hearne last at Freehold Mall in 1987 while I was doing a chore. Hope she's doing OK.

Those East Raiders of 1985 were a fun team that had a huge target on its back and front thanks to the coach who was so self-assured he had the best team in the Shore.

They came through with flying colors -- flying sky high.