DENVILLE, NJ – No. 1 seed Morris Knolls varsity softball got its first Morris County Tournament championship since 2014 in an 11-9 nail-biter against No. 6 seed Mount Olive in Landing, New Jersey, on Saturday, May 11.
The Golden Eagles got off to a good start. After leaving Mount Olive scoreless on just two hits in the first inning, Morris Knolls won the inning with a single by Skye Eppel and a two-run homer by the designated player, Jessica Arminio.
Mount Olive remained scoreless through the first three innings, adding one hit in the second and two in the third. The Marauders would eventually find its groove in the fourth inning, scoring three runs off two doubles, one single and two walks to take the lead by one.
Continuing to hold Morris Knolls to two runs, and after retiring the bottom of the fourth three up, three down, Mount Olive added another run in the fifth inning to build its lead to two.
With a sense of urgency, the Golden Eagles elevated their offensive play. Cayla Hua led the bottom of the fifth with a base on balls, followed by a fielder’s choice by Eppel. Maddison Perna doubled, scoring the first run of the inning. After striking out Carley Mahan, Mount Olive intentionally walked Arminio. Pitcher Kayla Turcios nailed a single and Casey Heitmann crushed a double that brought home two more players to take the lead. Morris Knolls ended the inning up by one run.
Morris Knolls quickly retired the Marauders in the top of the sixth – three up, three down – and continued to extend its lead in the bottom of the sixth. Getting four players (Nicole Florey, Eppel, Perna and Mahan) on base on singles, the Golden Eagles scored three additional runs. Perna earned an RBI off her single, and Eppel and Perna scored off successive wild pitches, bringing the team’s lead to four.
Facing its last at-bat down by four, Mount Olive did what it does best – staged a comeback. To the surprise and chagrin of Morris Knolls players and fans, the Marauders doggedly scored five runs off one double, two singles and three walks and closed the inning up by one.
With the Morris County Tournament championship hanging in the balance, Mahan got thrown out at first, but Brielle Eike managed to hit a single. Florey followed with a base on balls, but Hua forced a fielder’s choice. Feeling the pressure of having two players out, two players on in the bottom of the seventh and potentially the last player of the game, Eppel stared down Mount Olive pitcher Anna Callahan, determined to get on base some way, somehow. When Callahan threw the ball down the middle, Eppel took the bait, made contact and raced to first base. Unbeknownst to Eppel, the hit was solid enough to go sailing across the fence to send home Eike, Florey and Eppel. Eppel’s second homerun of the season clinched the 2019 Morris County Tournament for the Golden Eagles.
"You want to be prepared for [these] situations. I was very nervous but I tried to clear my head. I needed a base hit. We were down one, so my main goal was to just get a base hit and get the runner home. When it was right down the middle, I knew this was my chance,” Eppel shared. “I knew it was far but I wasn't sure if it was going over. Once I saw it go over, I just started freaking out."
Eppel’s walk-off homerun not only won the tournament for Morris Knolls, it garnered a Most Valuable Player designation for Eppel.
“I told my assistant coach[, Jolyn Veres,] on the bus ride over here … ‘Skye’s going to come up big for us tonight,’” said Morris Knolls Head Coach Keith Heinemann. “I just had a feeling ... She came up huge.”
Coming into the season, the Golden Eagles had four goals, according to Heinemann. “We’ve knocked off three of our four goals – winning our conference, winning county and getting 20 wins. Now off to [the state sectionals].”
TAPintoDenville.net is a member of the New Jersey Press Association and is a hyperlocal news site that serves residents, organizations and business owners of Denville, New Jersey.
Sign up for our FREE daily eNews.
Got a news tip? Email us at fnixon@TAPinto.net.