"Nobody expected us to be here in the state final, including us in the beginning of the season," senior Lauren Hickman said. "We just picked it up during the middle of the season and finished strong. I just wish we could have played better against Montclair Kimberley."
With temperatures in the high 90s, Montclair Kimberley's Vanessa Carmona found a way to put the chill in St. Joseph, which had scored 21 runs in its previous three games. The southpaw wasn't overpowering, but she changed speeds well. The result was just two Wildcats baserunners in the game, and only one reached second base.
"The bats didn't come alive," St. Joseph coach Matt Ricco said. "We gave [Carmona] the momentum early in the game, and she didn't let it go."
Laura DiRenzo reached base on an error in the second inning and Britney Grisso drew a leadoff walk in the third. But that was it on offense.
"Our bats killed us," Grisso said. "If we don't start hitting early in the game, we're in trouble. That's what happened in this game."
Carmona retired the final 15 batters she faced to improve to 18-3.
"It looked like she was throwing a spinner," said Hickman, the Wildcats' cleanup hitter, who went 0 for 3. "It wasn't moving a lot, but it was enough to throw us off."
Montclair Kimberley wasted little time showing off its baserunning skills. Leadoff hitter Lauren Stefanchik began the game with a bunt single, then stole second, went to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a fielder's choice.
After Montclair Kimberley parlayed two errors into a run in the third, the Cougars broke open the game in the fifth with three runs. Jen Woschinko put down a two-strike bunt to drive in a run and Gianna Lopreato drove in two with a single against starter Britney Grisso. Grisso, who was a starter on the Wildcats' 1998 state-finalist team, allowed five hits and struck out one.
"They showed a little of everthing against us," Ricco said. "They could hit, slap, and they're quick. I thought Britney pitched well; they just took advantage of the opportunities they got."
On the plus side, St. Joseph's made stellar defensive plays.
Senior Karrie Augustine gunned down Stefanchik trying to steal in the third inning. It was the only time in 70 attempts this season that Stefanchik had been caught stealing.
Augustine also picked off Lopreato at first with a snap throw in the first inning and made a strong throw to deny Stefanchik a bunt single in the seventh.
Lopreato figured in both of St. Joseph's other great plays. She was thrown out at the plate by centerfielder Stacy Redino in the fifth inning and robbed of a hit by second baseman Diana DeFiore, who made a backhanded stab of a liner up the middle in the seventh.
Group 3. Passaic Valley's Lisa Caruso threw a six-hitter as the Hornets earned a 6-0 win over Middletown South in the state Group 3 championship game, which started yesterday's tripleheader.
WP: Vanessa Carmona. LP: Britney Grisso. 2B: MKA-Jessica Nelson, Kristin DiMeo.
Tom McGurk's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org