CHATHAM, NJ - Two years later, it's still hard for Melissa Landry to remove completely from her mind.
The Chatham senior pitched against Sparta for the first time since she was struck in the face by a batted ball as a sophomore, spending time in the hospital because of it. Ever since that game, she has worn a protective mask while pitching.
"Two years ago, same team," Landry said. "There were times when girls took some heavy swings and I kind of flinched. But I have my facemask on this time. The girl who hit me graduated last year, so I wasn't too scared of anyone in particular, but it definitely was in the back of my mind. It gave me a reason to want to pitch this game."
Landry triumphed over her fears during her pitching duel against Sparta, but her opponent, Paige Smith, was even better, tossing a one-hitter that boosted the Spartans to a 2-0 softball win Wednesday at the Chatham Middle School.
Landry and Smith were locked in a scoreless battle through the first five innings before Sparta (5-2) pushed across a run in the sixth on an error and three walks issued by the Chatham right-hander.
"I get really mad at myself and I feel bad for the defense behind me because I want to make the batter put the ball in play," Landry said. "Not being able to do that is annoying.
"It was a good experience. We were supposed to play them last year and it go rained out. I was looking forward to that game. Now, two years later, it's still fresh in my mind. It's still good to face them."
In the third, Sparta had a runner on second with two outs and Landry induced a grounder to end the threat. In the fourth, Sparta loaded the bases and Landry notched a strikeout to escape the jam.
In the fifth, with runners on second and third and two outs, Landry induced another grounder and third baseman Hallie Pellegrin threw the runner out to end it.
"I think our team kind of prides ourselves that in tough situations, we can get ourselves out of it," Landry said. "We showed that last year against teams like Morris Knolls. The county tournament, there's always runners on, so that's a good trait to have."
Winning pitcher Smith's RBI double in the top of the seventh made it 2-0 and Sparta had runners on second and third with no outs before Anna Lengner came in from right field to pitch and got three straight grounders, two of them comebackers, to strand the runners.
Chatham (6-3), the No. 4 seed for the upcoming Morris County Tournament, had a chance to score in the first inning when Camryn Davies drew a walk and stole second. But Lengner's line drive was hit right at the center fielder for the third out.
In the fourth, the Lady Cougars made a bid to break the scoreless tie. Morgan Pellegrin broke up Smith's no-hit bid with leadoff single to center and then stole second base. With one out, Sarah Stubeck put down a bunt as Pellegrin moved to third with two outs. But Sarah McCabe hit a grounder to third for the final out of the inning.
Smith, who struck out eight and walked two, turned her pitching up a notch from that point on, retiring the final nine batters in order.
"You knew she's a top pitcher," Chatham coach Brian Figueiredo said. "You're not going to win many games with one hit. On the flip side, we knew we had to play good defense to stay in the game and for the most part we did that. It just unraveled a little bit in the sixth. Credit to them for capitalizing on it."