VERONA, NJ - With two outs and the tying run at first in the bottom of the seventh inning Cedar Grove Pitcher Mia Faieta knew she’d have to bear down and trust her teammates if they were to hold on and claim the North 1 Group 1 Section Title.
She wound up and delivered a bullet to the upper part of the strike-zone that fell fast into right field, but had just enough air as Gianna Kubu came on to put the final out away on a Section Championship for The Lady Panthers.
“When Gianna caught that ball it was so awesome a feeling. Everyone played a great game [today],” said Faieta.
The effort was maximized in all areas according to Cedar Grove’s Head Coach Nicole Velardi. Utilizing an all hands on deck approach the win culminates a year long goal for the squad that started in the offseason.
“I’m extremely happy for these kids. We work extremely hard in the offseason and all year long, this year we put in the work and I think we deserve to be here,” said Velardi.
Cedar Grove capitalized on nearly every opportunity they were handed with an aggressive mentality coming into the contest.
“I went right up to bat [thinking] I’m leading off right here and I’m going to swing at the first pitch and I’m just going to hit it as far as I could…right when I saw in between [the outfielders] I said I’m not stopping until I get to third,” said Ava Mandala.
Knowing runs would be few and far between The Lady Panthers scored the game’s first run on a wild pitch one play later. Mandala, who played a small role as a pinch runner in the team's 2015 Section Title win made it it 1-0 Cedar Grove in the top of the third to apply some pressure to the top seeded Lady Hillbillies.
“You can’t be nervous [in a Title Game] once you get the nerves out in the first inning you’ll be fine and you keep going and do whatever you can to contribute,” said Mandala of her mentality going into the contest.
Every run would be crucial with Verona starting pitcher Christina Colon dealing nearly as well as her Cedar Grove counterpart. Colon managed to settle in after allowing the opening run with an impressive day despite taking the loss. In between allowing two runs on just four hits Colon notched 13 strikeouts for Verona.
“All year [Colon]’s striking people out, I give her a lot of credit she’s a sophomore and only going to get better,” said Velardi of the Verona pitcher.
Colon did her best to match Cedar Grove’s budding superstar pitcher Mia Faieta who was coming off the greatest pitched game in Cedar Grove history. After throwing a perfect game in the semifinal Faieta rode her momentum into the Title game. The sophomore notched 15 strikeouts off Verona batters and allowed her only run of the tournament in going the distance.
Verona boasts an impressive offense in addition to their young gun pitcher so Velardi knew her team would need an insurance run. The Lady Panthers got just that in the top of the sixth inning. The game’s eventual decisive blow was dealt by way of a ground-ruled double to left field off the bat of Ava Fernandez. Fernandez extra base hit scored teammate Rianna Marinelli who notched her sixth run of the tournament and put the team up 2-0 with a mere six outs to go until glory.
“[Fernandez] is just doing it, she’s seeing the ball, she looked confident in the box and I’m happy for her that she got that hit,” said Velardi.
Verona would not make it an easy last few outs, however showing the resilience of a championship-caliber team and why they were the top seed. The Lady Hillbillies clawed their way back in the bottom of the sixth to make the game interesting. Kaitlyn Deo’s two out RBI double, which scored Amber Reed made Cedar Grove have to dig deep to win their Title.
“Verona is a great team, they have great pitchers. It was tough -- we didn’t think we were going to come in here and have an easy game,” said Velardi.
Verona despite taking the loss in the Title Game has nothing to hang their head on in a successful 2017 campaign. Their final record of 22-6 is one of the best in school’s history going along with their best State Playoff ranking in at least four years.
Cedar Grove’s victory gives the team their second title in three seasons. The Lady Panthers will savor the Championship Trophy and prepare for Group play which will start on Thursday.
“We’ll enjoy it tonight, but we’ve got to look forward to our next game,” said Velardi.