MIDDLETOWN, N.J. – Under cloudy Friday afternoon skies, the third-seeded Middletown High School South Eagles became sectional champions in back-to-back years. Thanks to a walk off RBI by Hannah Wisialko in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Eagles beat the fourth-seeded Lady Tigers of South Plainfield 1-0 in the 2016 NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group III finals in Middletown.
Wisialko struck out in her two previous at-bats, but came through when it mattered most – and all she did was put the ball in play. After fouling a couple pitches off, the junior nudged a slow grounder toward the right side of the infield, and Tigers’ (25-6) first baseman Naomi Nieves’s throw was late as pinch runner Alissa Carfora slide home before the tag.
Eagles (26-3) head coach Tom Erbig thought about calling a play, but decided against it and it worked out.
“I thought about a suicide squeeze and I said, ‘You know what. I know she’s going to put the ball in play and let’s see what we can do’,” said Erbig, New Jersey high school softball’s all-time leader in wins with now 741.
“It feels great. The kids rise to the occasion. They do just the little things to get the win and we’ve been doing that for (most) of the time during the year. You know, we’re not blowing people out, but we’re getting it done at the right time.”
Carfaro came on for Ally Massa, who reached on a one-out error by Tigers’ shortstop Meghan Hughes on a hard hit grounder to her left. Then, Middletown South starting pitcher Maddie McMahon smacked a grounder between second base and shortstop to the outfield which allowed Carfaro to go from first to third. That set up Wisialko for her eventual game-winning fielder’s choice.
And speaking of McMahon, she was sensational from the pitching circle, or as Erbig called her – phenomenal.
The Sienna College-bound senior gave her fellow upperclassmen teammates something to smile and celebrate as they got ready for prom after the game. McMahon pitched a complete game two-hitter, allowing two walks and kept South Plainfield searching for answers with 11 strikeouts.
McMahon’s arsenal featured a blazing fast ball, rise ball, drop curve, and freezing change-up and was asked about how it felt just moments after her team’s victory. And McMahon described her emotions in one word: Awesome.
“There’s no better feeling in the world,” she said with a smile from ear-to-ear. “It was a tight game and a lot of 1-2-3 innings, so the result could have been anything but so happy to come out on top.
“Hannah put the ball in play and I’m coming around second base jumping and I didn’t know what to do with myself, it was just an awesome feeling.”
But in order for a game to be scoreless for six-and-a-half innings, the pitcher on the side must be doing some damage as well.
Enter Katherine Vill for South Plainfield.
Even though she ended up being the losing pitcher (23-6), the junior held down a potent Eagle lineup, which features the state’s home-run leader in Ciara Sullivan (15) to three hits, one unearned run, no walks, and four strikeouts in six and-one-third innings.
Vill sat down the first eight Middletown South batters, and has been the ace of the staff all year.
South Plainfield graduates four vital contributors in superb outfielder Kayla Rivera, batter Nicole Gerardi, and the aforementioned Hughes and Nieves.
However, head coach Don Panzarella, who is third on the state’s all-time wins list with 705, returns a good bulk of his roster like starting catcher Camryn Schaeffer (junior), second baseman Makayla Sosa (sophomore), third baseman Jillian Holoboski (freshman), center fielder Caity Hughes (junior), right fielder Jennifer Grasso (sophomore), Vill and others.
Panzarella’s squad is fueled by their stout pitching and defense, and they have that formula returning. Replacing the strong-armed Meghan Hughes will be key at short, but the nucleus is there.
“They’re a great team, these kids are good players,” Erbig said of the Tigers. “(They make) plays and they get up to bat and are aggressive, they run, it’s a great team out there.”
Even though South Plainfield’s last two games with chances of earning a sectional title and conference tournament ended in heartbreak, the season was far from a disappointment, and they shouldn’t hang their heads.
The Tigers, especially considering Vill will only improve, might see themselves back in this very spot next year. Only hopeful difference is them getting to celebrate on the field, not the opposition.
Follow Chris Nalwasky on Twitter @ChrisWasky.