WEST CALDWELL, NJ — The James Caldwell softball team was stunned by an underdog Verona squad on Wednesday afternoon, when the Hillbillies produced a 2-1 victory to oust the third-seeded Chiefs from the North 2, Group 2 state tournament.
“[Verona pitcher Christina Colon] is a great pitcher, but I think our pitcher is a great pitcher too,” said Caldwell head coach Mike Teshkoyan. “I thought it came down to a couple clutch hits by them.”
Caldwell held a key 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth inning, when Verona came alive. An often inconsistent Hillbilly offense managed to string together two hits with two outs from freshmen Melanie Naeris and Carlie Goldstein that drove in the two runs to change the complexion of the game.
“They were piecing it together,” said Verona head coach Angela Salisbury. “The younger kids are starting to catch on for us which is nice.”
Taking the lead in the fifth was all Colon needed to finish the contest. The Hillbilly pitcher was dominant in striking out 11 batters on the night, including four of the last six batters she faced.
“We’re a different team without her on the mound for sure,” said Salisbury. “She puts the team on her back and has done so all throughout the year.”
Caldwell was scrappy throughout the game against the Hillbillies, who the Chiefs knew would be tough after beating Verona earlier this year. Caldwell’s Nicolette Luzzi continued her excellent season with an RBI single off of Colon in the third inning to give her 17 for 2018.
“[Luzzi]’s been incredible all year long,” said Teshkoyan.
After defeating Verona on a steal of home plate in the regular season, the Chiefs figured they might have to produce yet another 1-0 shutout victory to duplicate their previous result.
“That was exciting to take the lead on her [in the third], to even get a run on her,” said Teshkoyan. “They were tough to beat the first time around so they got a little payback.”
Caldwell drops to 15-7 on the season and will now be eliminated from state title contention. Despite the disappointing result, the Chiefs still have a chance to win the conference title with an upcoming game against Columbia and Newark Academy.
“We’re looking forward to the two makeup games in the conference,” said Teshkoyan. “We’re still alive for the Conference Championship so we’re putting our eggs in that basket for now.”
Verona will improve to 11-12 on the season and head to the next round of the tournament against second-seeded Hanover Park on Friday.
“[Hanover Park] is a great team,” said Salisbury. “It’s always a tough battle with them anything now we said we’re just going to give it a shot, it’s a whole new group for us, new teams and we’ll see what happens.”