Sports

Pioneers' Magical Ride Comes to an End in UCT Final

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There was no shoe this time for Cinderella as New Providence Softball saw their upset streak halted by top seeded Governor Livingston in the finals of the Union County Tournament on Saturday before a crowd of 400 at Kean University in Union.  The Highlanders rode a balanced attack of 11 hits and took advantage of three ill-timed errors by the Pioneers in running their record to 21-2 with the 9-2 victory for their second consecutive UCT title and fifth overall for the program.

For the Lady Pioneers, they made their first trip to the UCT Finals in the 37 year history of the softball program in New Providence, but saw their 9 game winning streak come to an end after running the table in the first three rounds including upsets of second seeded Cranford and third seeded Westfield.

“I think the nerves got to them a bit,” said New Providence coach Kelly Villa. “We have just one senior on our team, so we’ll put this in our back pocket and learn from it. I’m proud of the team and their ability to get to the final.”

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Governor Livingston opened the scoring in the top of the first, stringing together 4 hits to plate two runs against New Providence ace right hander, Cassandra Squeri.  But the sixth seeded Pioneers answered right back in their half of the first to even the game 2-2 on RBI’s on an sacrifice fly off the bat of Amelia Eckert which was hauled in by Kelly Goense just in front of the right field fence,  the first of several defensive gems by the Highlander’s senior right fielder.   Nicole Saitta plated the second run with the Pioneers third hit of the inning.

The Highlanders went right back to work however in the top of the second, taking advantage of two Pioneer errors sandwiched around three hits to score four times to take a 6-2 lead.  Steph Cataldo and Jenna Kulback delivered the big blows in the inning, with Kulback lining a double to the gap in right center with two outs and first base open to break the game open. 

Governor Livingston extended their lead to 8-2 in the third as Paige Murphy singled in a pair of runs, and tacked on another in the sixth to provide a comfortable cushion for Jordan Robbins.   Robbins, a junior right hander, survived a rocky start to scatter 4 hits over the final 6 innings to earn the victory for the Highlanders.

The Lady Pioneers struggled to get their timing straight at the plate as Robbins delivery was throwing off their timing.  Meanwhile the Highlanders made several fine plays in the field to squelch any rally attempts that had buoyed the Pioneers in their previous two wins.  Goense made a sliding one handed catch in right with a runner on second to end the fifth while Kulbeck dove to make a one handed grab of a foul pop just in front of the Pioneer dugout for the second out in the seventh.

Kulback ended the game with 3 for 4 and continued her clutch hitting that dominated the UCT games with several game changing hits including a game tying homerun with 2 outs in the bottom of the seventh in quarterfinals vs. ninth seeded Brearley in a game eventually won by GL 6-5 in eight innings.

New Providence, which fell to 12-5 on the year, turns the page and now focuses on the Group 1 State Tournament.   The Lady Pioneers reached the finals of the Section last year and looks to rebound from Saturday’s setback to prime for another tournament run.

 

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