BERKELEY HEIGHTS- It was go big or go home today at Governor Livingston High School’s softball field earlier today, as the Highlanders hosted South Plainfield in the semifinals of the North 2, Group 3 sectional tournament.
The second-seeded Highlanders (23-3) came in with a 22 game winning streak and as the No. 8 ranked team in NJ.com’s Top 20 standings. The defensive and pitching prowess of the third-seeded Lady Tigers (24-3) has allowed them to edge out close wins over some very talented teams this season, and today that was the case as well.
Another standout pitching performance from Katherine Vill and some timely hitting from the Lady Tigers’ batters pushed South Plainfield to a 2-1 victory over Governor Livingston, which earned them another spot in the N2G3 finals.
Although the odds seemed to be going slightly against the Lady Tigers going into the game, head coach Don Panzarella said his team wasn’t lacking in confidence.
“I don’t know if they realize sometimes what goes on, but we tell them to take it one game at a time, (and) If you win today you go onto next week, if you don’t, you’re going home,” Panzarella said after the game. “I think they’re relaxed. They’re not looking past anybody. We said ‘this team won 23 games in a row, and we’re just as good’. We played tough competition. This was going to be a good game, and we knew it.”
Anyone who’s been following South Plainfield’s play this season knows that the team’s pitching and defense has been the cornerstone of their success. Today was another perfect example of that.
Vill gave up an early solo in-the-park home run to Alanna Amit in the first inning, but the South Plainfield thrower dominated for almost all of the rest of the game. From the second inning all the way to the bottom of the seventh, Vill forced an out on every single Highlander at-bat, 15 consecutive outs in all. Vill gave up two hits in all, while striking out four and walking one.
“Some games she’ll strike out nine, ten, sometimes it's five or six, but she doesn’t walk anybody and that’s number one,” said Panzarella. “She picks her spots.”
The pitching of Governor Livingston’s Amit prevented South Plainfield from getting too much offense, but as usual, the Lady Tigers got their bats going when they really needed it. An outfield pop up from Camryn Schaeffer allowed Caity Hughes to score a run in the third inning during a bases loaded situation, and McKayla Sosa scored the go-ahead run in the following inning after a double from Jennifer Grasso.
The win was nothing near a cakewalk for South Plainfield, as Governor Livingston threatened to steal a win late in the game. It looked like a deep outfield sac fly from Jillian Holoboski gave South Plainfield another run in the top of the seventh, but game officials ruled that South Plainfield’s runner had left the base too soon, which resulted in an third out.
In the bottom of the final inning, Governor Livingston managed to break Vill’s hot streak and got two runners on base off a single and a walk, but South Plainfield was able to secure the victory by forcing the final outs.
“I was very determined; I knew I walked that first girl, but I couldn’t let that bother me at all,” Vill said moments after she forced the last out. “I knew I had to get the next batters. No matter what happened I had to get the outs and win.”
Amit, a senior, put in a solid outing in her last game for the Highlanders, as she finished with five strikeouts and two walks, while giving up five hits.
South Plainfield will meet top-seeded Middletown North in the finals next week (The Lady Tigers beat them 4-2 in last year’s sectional tournament), but before that they have a meeting with South Brunswick in the finals of the GMC tournament. The conference final is a rematch of last year’s championship game, where the Vikings took an extra innings victory off a play at the plate.
Panzarella said his team has been building confidence and believing in themselves more with every game, and that confidence could go a long way in helping them get their revenge over the Vikings.
“Tomorrow, we’re going to be going full out with our best play,” said Vill. “Offensively and defensively we know how we need to play, and that’s how we’re going to do it.”