SOUTH PLAINFIELD -- The South Plainfield High School varsity softball team has relied on one secret winning formula for the good part of the season -- the strong pitching arm of Katherine Vill, solid all-around defense, and timely hitting at the plate.
If those three things happen during the course of the game, the Tigers usually come out on top, which they now have 20 times in 2017. On Wednesday afternoon, top-seeded South Plainfield flashed the leather in both the infield and the outfield, the ace Vill did her thing in the circle, and the Tigers’ offense got a key hit en-route to a 3-0 victory over ninth-seeded Bishop Ahr in the quarterfinals of the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament in a sunny and hot South Plainfield.
The victory serves as a little revenge for South Plainfield after the Trojans spoiled a potential undefeated season for the Tigers winning 1-0 in nine innings back on April 27 in Edison. South Plainfield takes the season series, 2-1, over their White Division foe.
“It’s awesome,” Tigers’ head coach South Plainfield said after the game. “They played good defense and Kat pitched well. It was a great game and it’s great to come back and beat a team now for the second time after they beat us.”
In the bottom of the first inning, South Plainfield’s speedy shortstop and leadoff hitter Caity Hughes roped a line drive which was caught by the second baseman with the infield in. Right fielder Jennifer Grasso followed up after Hughes and did the same thing except this time pitcher Katie Eicher made the grab.
The Tigers did manage to break through in the home half of the second however scoring three runs -- the only runs of the ballgame. Catcher Camryn Schaeffer reached first base after her grounder bounced off Bishop Ahr’s third baseman Alyssa DeJianne which caused the throw to be late getting across the diamond. Schaeffer appeared to roll her ankle and a courtesy runner came on, but she shook it off and took her position behind the plate in the third.
Hughes scored the runner on a bases loaded walk.
Later, Grasso poked a huge two-out two-RBI single down the left field line which scored Angela Sanchez and Makayla Sosa. The steady junior Grasso also made a couple plays in right field, including a tremendous diving grab in the sixth.
“We got a big hit by Grasso and I guess it’s the way it’s going to be,” Panzarella said. “She’s probably the best right fielder in the county. Nobody realizes it. She catches everything.
“But, we gotta hit the ball better. We hit the ball hard [though] and we didn’t strike out as much like normal. I’d like to see a little more production in the lineup (overall). Put the ball in play and move the runners over.”
Vill earned her 20th win of the season, tossing a two-hitter allowing two walks while striking out five. The senior will have to ice up the arm good as South Plainfield will host Somerville in the first round of the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 Tournament on Thursday afternoon.
The Tigers, who advanced to the final of both the GMC and the N2G3 tournaments a year ago, own the No. 3 seed while the Pioneers are No. 14.
In case Vill gets roughed up or is too gassed, Panzarella has third baseman sophomore sensation Jillian Holoboski as an option.
“It’s tough to put a kid in that situation (especially in the playoffs) but if we have to we have her,” Panzarella said.
“It’s hard. We had a game today. Kat’s tired. She’s gotta come back tomorrow and it’s going to be hard. It’s what it’s always been though. They don’t change it.”
South Plainfield -- and Vill -- will have a break day on Friday before they face fifth-seeded J.P. Stevens in the GMCT semifinals on Saturday at Middlesex County College