EDISON- When hits and runs are scarce late in a close game, one clutch hit can be the difference between a win and a loss. The South Plainfield High School softball team has gutted out victories in situations like that before, but today though, they came up just short.

Earlier today in Edison, the Lady Tigers (18-3) battled through an extra innings defensive struggle against GMC rival J.P Stevens. Both teams had opportunities to score late, but a ninth inning walk-off hit handed the Lady Tigers a 2-1 loss.

The head coach of South Plainfield, Don Panzarella, said that the deciding factor of the game was the Lady Tigers’ inability to get hits when they really needed them.

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“You gotta hit, you gotta get clutch hits, and we didn’t do that,” Panzarella said. “It was a great game defensively, and we pitched well, but we left too many runners (on bases). We’ve got to make adjustments at the plate.”

Significant offense was hard to come by for both teams for much of the game. An RBI hit from South Plainfield’s MaKayla Sosa sent Camryn Schaeffer home in the top of the second inning, but J.P Stevens (13-4) quickly evened the score back up courtesy a lead-off solo homer by Brianna Zederbaum in the bottom of the inning.

The 1-1 scoreline eventually sent the game to extra innings. In the bottom of the ninth, a single and two intentional walks brought Abby Jason up to bat, and she responded by hitting the ball deep into left field to bring in the Hawks’ winning run.

The Lady Tigers had late opportunities though, and one particularly promising-looking one came in the top of the eighth . With two outs and the bases loaded, Sosa worked Hawk pitcher Ashley Lombardi to a 3-0 count. One more ball would’ve given South Plainfield a run, but Lombardi managed to throw three straight strikes to end the inning. South Plainfield also left runners on second and third in the ninth inning.

“We had every opportunity to score runs but we didn’t do it,” Panzarella said. “That’s the bottom line. To beat the good teams we’re going to have to get that clutch hit and we just didn’t do it today. It’s frustrating because they played well defensively. (Katherine Vill) pitched well. If she pitches into the ninth inning, we’ve got to win.”

Vill gave up seven hits and struck out eight while walking three. Vill also hit two doubles behind the plate, while Cameron Marks and Sosa drew two walks.

Lombardi struck out nine and walked five while conceding seven hits for J.P Stevens.

The loss comes at a rough time for the Lady Tigers, as they’ll be starting their GMC tournament campaign as a one-seed on Saturday against 16th-seeded Spotswood. Panzarella says that his players will have to change their mindset at the plate if they want to survive against the tougher teams in the postseason.

“You’ve got to be positive,” he said. “They gotta go in there and not be worrying about themselves and strikeout three times and then worry about that fourth one. It takes one hit.

"You can do nothing all day and come up big late, and that’s what you might have to do since we’re playing good teams now. It only takes one at-bat to win the game. They all have to start having that mindset. They have to change their approach at the plate, and it’s gotta happen soon.”