Fred Powell walked off the softball field at Toms River East with two things: a state championship trophy and a new T-shirt.

Neither was free.

Powell needed his wife to buy him a souvenir shirt from the NJSIAA merchandise stand because his players soaked him with water and Gatorade in celebration of Williamstown's 3-0 victory over Union in the Group 4 state championship game.

The trophy was the prize for winning another state crown, but Powell paid for that too: putting in the time and effort over the long years to turn the Braves into one of the most powerful programs in the state.

"He puts in the time," Williamstown senior star Katie Trotter said of Powell. "He's always there. He's always working at it. You can tell he wants it."

Powell isn't The Inquirer's coach of the year in softball just because the Braves won the state title. He's not deserving of the honor just because Williamstown this season became the first South Jersey team since Gloucester in 2000-01 to win back-to-back state championships.

It's the dues Powell paid during the down years. It's the way all that work has resulted in a program that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any in New Jersey.

"We had some lean years," said Powell, who recently finished his 18th season. "I think we were 2-19 one year, 3-15 another year. It was frustrating. It was tough on the kids."

Powell had a Tri-County Conference championship team in 1998, with star pitcher Kim Carlson. But for much of his first 10 years with the program, the Braves struggled to compete with some of the better teams in the conference, as well as in South Jersey.

"It's all about the pitching," Powell said. "If you don't have the pitching, you're not going to win."

Williamstown began to emerge as a force in South Jersey when Powell's daughter Natalie and her classmate Stacey Bradley entered the program in the early 2000s.

But the Braves have risen to another level over the last two years. In 2008, Williamstown went 26-1 and won the first state championship in the history of the program, thanks in large part to the dominating pitching of senior Rachael Matreale.

This season, the Braves defended their title. They won with a crafty senior pitcher in Trotter, with timely hitting, and with near-flawless defense.

"I knew we needed to score more runs," Powell said. "Rachael used to say to me, 'Get one run and that will be enough for me.' I knew that wasn't going to be the case this year."

Powell guided the Braves to a 22-2 record. Williamstown won the prestigious Hammonton Tournament and shared the Tri-County Royal Division title with Kingsway.

In the state tournament, the Braves won three one-run games and outplayed Union in a pressure-packed state final.

"It's very rewarding," Powell said. "You think about all the time you put in, all the practices, all the sleepless nights, the fund-raising, lining the field, all the little things. It adds up.

"The program has come such a long way. We're really on the map now, and that's very exciting for the kids to be part of it."

Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223

or panastasia@phillynews.com.