BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP - More than an hour delay for weather and a change in routine had its effects, but not enough to get the top-seeded Buena Regional High School softball team off its game Thursday.
Brittany Scott pitched her 16th shutout of the season, giving up five hits and striking out seven in a 3-0 win over No. 8 Middle Township (12-10) in the South Jersey Group II softball quarterfinals. The Chiefs (22-2) will host No. 4 Barnegat in a semifinal Tuesday. Buena is ranked sixth in The Press Elite 11.
"I think we were a little too tight today," Buena coach Pam Pickett said. "Brittany wasn't getting the same push off the mound that she usually does."
The clouds cleared to drape the field in sunshine for the fifth meeting between the teams in the last two years.
Middle's Veronica Walters reached first on an error to start the game. Scott soon faced her first challenge as the next two batters sacrificed Walters over to third. Cleanup hitter Alyssa Discepola hit the ball hard, but at the left fielder and Scott was able to get out of the inning.
Buena's half of the first inning became very important. The Chiefs scored first, taking some of the pressure off Scott as she pitched.
"I just knew we had to come back and battle with our bats," Scott said. "It makes me feel a lot better. I'm not so tight. As soon as we got that, I knew it would be OK."
Buena's Ashley Surran bunted for a hit and when the ball was thrown over the first baseman's head, the speedy catcher ran all the way to third.
"We have to set the tone. That's crucial for our start in the states," Surran said. "I think it's important to set a nice precedent. This is our field, this is our place. We have to score first."
The next batter, Scott drove in Surran on a fielder's choice to give Buena a 1-0 lead.
That was all the scoring until the sixth inning, but Middle Township came close twice.
In the fourth inning, two of the first three batters got hits, including a double from Discepola to put runners at second and third with just one out. Pitcher Gabby Pollizi hit a ground ball to second and instead of Kaitlin Cooper getting the sure out, she ran toward the runner at third.
Cooper caught Tori Sittineri in a run down and tagged her out, changing the tone of the inning. Scott struck out the next batter to end the threat.
"We prepared for Brittany. We knew what we were facing," Middle coach Lauren Ruef said. "You can't prepare for how smart she is and how effective, but we prepared for her speed a little more."
In the sixth, the Panthers got hits off Scott again. Chelsea Bright singled and Sittineri sacrificed her to second. Then Discepola got a hit that moved Bright to third. Almost anything could have scored her - sacrifice fly, base hit, maybe even a ground ball - but Scott got out of the inning with a strikeout and a popup.
"Each round the teams get better and better," Pickett said. "Brittany is a seasoned player. She's not going to rattle. I would liked for us to have a little better insurance for her, so I was glad for the sixth inning."
Buena scored twice in the sixth. The Chiefs took advantage of two early walks with an RBI from Jenn Cimino. Then with the bases loaded, Cooper, who pitched in relief, almost tripped off the mound and was called for a balk to make it 3-0.
Scott seemed to struggle in the middle innings but came back stronger in the seventh. After a leadoff single, she struck out the next batter and the next two grounded out weakly to the pitcher.
"Once we got that I knew she would be able shut it down pretty easily," Pickett said. "You're riding on one run the whole time, you would hate make her feel responsible the whole time."
Contact Susan Lulgjuraj:
Middle Township 000 000 0-0 5 2
Buena Regional 100 002 x-3 5 1
WP-Scott 20-2 7K. LP-Pollizi 4k.
Records-Buena Regional 22-2, Middle Township 12-10.