Milford reclaims Hunterdon softball title at Strikeout Hunger tournament
Posted May 07, 2019
Naomi Kuhlken, Kulkhen Photographers and Noel Cook
Winners at Strike Out Hunger NJ 2019: Milford Mayhem and Local Food Pantries
Strikeout Hunger NJ hosted their 6th annual softball tournament in Holland Township with four towns coming together to play ball and raise awareness about food insecurity in our community. Collectively, fans and players from Milford, Alexandria, Holland, and Frenchtown donated over 1,000 pounds of food along with $1,000 of donations that will be distributed to local food pantries. It will stand as the largest one-day collection of food and financial donations in Strikeout Hunger NJ history. The early morning rain nearly caused a washout, but with thanks to the morning players from Holland and Milford, the field was rescued by game time. The afternoon commenced with Holland Cub Pack 187 proudly displaying the colors accompanied by a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem by Elisa Yager, Cindy Cullen, and Terri Heller. The first ball was thrown out by Holland Mayor Dan Bush. Once the clouds parted, Erwinna PA’s Van Sant Airport sent thrilling biplanes in formation to sail over the field twice to wish a warm message of support for the mission.
Semi-final 1: Milford Mayhem 15 – Holland Ridge Runners 9
In the first game, Coach Dean Pursell led the Holland Ridge Runners with a strong 8 run lead, but ultimately, the Mayhem prevailed with a score of 15. Milford’s Coach Joe Toye has been with Milford and the tournament from its inception in 2014 and shows no signs of stopping any time soon. Key takeaways from the first semi-final were Milford’s never-quit attitude and a strategic defensive adjustment by Mayhem captain Wes Hackman.
Semi-final 2: Alexandria Anarchy 14 – Frenchtown Frenzy 3
The Cinderella story of the day was the newly formed Anarchy, under the direction of team captain Jay Arancio, gearing up against the defending champion Frenchtown Frenzy. With his trademark cigar clenched between his teeth, Frenzy’s Coach Randy Lerch proudly returned the game trophy from last year and gathered his team for the next round.
Admittedly, Arancio was uncertain how his team would come together. But after the first inning, the Anarchy held their own, only trailing Frenchtown by a score of 3-2. But what happened next will go down in SOHNJ tournament history because the newbie Anarchy went on a scoring spree while not allowing another Frenzy run for the rest of the game.
Finals: Milford Mayhem 9- Alexandria Anarchy 8
Kicking off the championships was the returning Milford/Frenchtown VFW, led by Sonny Silva, who displayed a beautiful American flag, while our three songstresses, Elisa Yager, Cindy Cullen, and Terri Heller once again performed an enchanting National Anthem. The ceremonial first ball was thrown out by Helene Meissner, Director of Norwescap, New Jersey’s leading food bank. Norwescap is one of the recipients of the proceeds with direct purchases from our local pantries.
This was the third time that the SOHNJ final game was decided in the last inning of play. And like the 2014 and 2018 finals, this game had all the intensity, suspense, and excitement as those previous barn burners. Like those past games, it was played by two teams with incredible respect and admiration for their opponents. Prior to the tournament, both Milford and Alexandria practiced together for two months in the bitter cold, consistently bringing an average of 60 lbs of pantry items to each practice. The teams bonded like a softball family under the direction of Milford’s Coach Joe Toye. Unfortunately, only one team would win but fortunately for the fans, the game provided high drama right down to the end.
Both teams got on the board early and after two innings, the score was tied 5-5. The rest of the game became a defensive struggle and runs were hard to come by. The Mayhem scored two runs in the fourth inning but was held scoreless until the bottom of the seventh. Meanwhile, the Anarchy added a run in the top of the sixth inning and another two in the top of the seventh making the score 8-7 with the Mayhem coming to bat in the bottom of the inning. The second of the two runs the Anarchy scored to take the lead in the seventh occurred despite a spectacular defensive play by shortstop Joe David. With a runner on third and one out, Kristen Kramer hit a pop up behind third base too far back for 3rdbaseman Tiffany Reasoner to get. But from his shortstop position, David sprinted behind Reasoner to make an incredibly athletic catch recording the second out of the inning. But the force of his sprint took David into dead-ball territory which allowed the runner from third, to go home giving the Anarchy a one-run lead.
In the bottom of the 7th with one out, Mayhem’s Andrew Sowden doubled and was on base as the tying run. Dave Plaxe followed with a single of his own sending Sowden to tie the score. Up next was the defensive MVP of the day, Joe David, who hit a grounder deep in the hole at shortstop. What happened next was one of the critical moments in the game. Anarchy shortstop Eric Fransen fielded the ball cleanly and threw to second basemen Bucky Heath. Heath bobbled the ball once, then twice which gave Plaxe enough time to slide safely into second as the potential winning run. After “The Hammer” Chris Bumback popped up for the second out, a very determined Mike Ward came to the plate with a chance to win the game. Prior to this at-bat, Ward was having a very productive day hitting an inside-the-park home run earlier in the game and also making a spectacular backhanded catch in the top of the seventh ending an Anarchy rally.
But in the bottom of the 7th in a pressure-tight situation, Ward was golden again hitting a hard ground ball out of the reach of second baseman Bucky Heath. Plaxe fiercely bulldozed his way home from second, scoring the winning run and giving the Mayhem its first tournament win in three years. As the Mayhem poured onto the field to claim their Stanley Cup sized trophy, they got together with the Anarchy and unanimously agreed that this experience inspired the first “Strike Out Hunger Spirit” award. The game ball was quietly presented to a very humbled Jay Arancio, Alexandria Anarchy’s founder.
Other volunteers included Presbyterian Church of Milford’s Mission Leaders Jody Leffler, and Linda Bellini, along with St. Edward’s Kris Menard and Frenchtown Presbyterian’s Barbara Huey, expertly led all the pantry volunteers with a well-organized mission. Sound and PA was provided by Out & About Luxury Travel’s Sande & Nick Neske, and River Union Stage’s Keith Strunk returned as the game announcer to call the riveting results of the day. DVAA Softball Director Jen Giera was on hand all day, directing the tournament’s details and ensuring safety. Milford-Holland Rescue Squad and Holland’s CERT Team were on deck the entire ten-hour day, as well as the Holland Police.
The Riegel Ridge Rams set up the food concessions and donated all of their tips to the pantries. Scorekeepers were Whitney Reynolds and Julie Lyons. The Umpire was Henry McClary and Chic Cosover returned from last year to lend support. Photography captured by Naomi Kuhlken, Kulkhen Photographers and Noel Cook.
Send Hunger to the Bench*
*Sung to the Tune Take Me Out to the Ball Game
Fight with us to end hunger
Send Hunger to the Bench
Come to our game and do bring some food.
Helping others guarantees a good mood
Know that some tonight will go hungry
To do nothing is a shame
You can Help Us Strike Hunger Out
Bring Food to the Game