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Softball: First-place Eagles edged in H/W/S tournament quarterfinal

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They were in it to the bitter end.

Host No. 4 South Hunterdon was one out away from at least forcing extra innings in Monday’s Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex softball tournament quarterfinal. But Pope John XXIII (7-9) third baseman Brianna Jones ripped a bases clearing, seventh inning double to break open a 1-1 tie.

Jones scored on a wild pitch to cap the runs in the No. 12 Lions’ 5-1 win. Yet the young Eagles – they have just one senior in their starting lineup – served notice to the area that they are a threat.

“We’re not really known to do this that often,” noted Eagle shortstop Alana Catanzareti. “There was a lot of hype coming into the tournament.”

Catanzareti referred to the Eagles’ H/W/S tournament path. After earning a first round bye, Group 1 South Hunterdon topped No. 16 Group II Newton 4-3 on April 22. Skyler Badessa homered and scored the winning run on pitcher Kayla Kilmer’s walk off double. Kilmer whiffed six in the complete game win.

“(Newton) showed us that we’re good competition and we shouldn’t be taken lightly,” Badessa stated. “We’re going to come to win.”

South Hunterdon is the smallest school in the 20-team H/W/S county tournament. Beating Newton and going toe to toe with Pope John – two schools with more than double South Hunterdon’s enrollment – makes a statement.

“This is really big for the girls since we are the smallest of the small, public school wise, in New Jersey,” said Eagle skipper Megan Cegielski.

“For the girls to come out and compete in the tournament is a huge deal since we’re usually one-and-done. Knocking off a pretty good team and making it to the quarterfinals is a big run for them.”

Kilmer sparkled in the ring against Pope John; she carried a no-hitter through four frames.

“Keeping things off-speed and keeping batters on their toes with the change-up and fastball,” Kilmer credited. “Between the two speeds, it definitely helps. That, and hitting my spots.”

South Hunterdon got to Pope John starter Morgan Kasabri in the first inning. Badessa walked and scored on Catanzareti’s single.

“Our energy was definitely high in the beginning,” Catanzareti said. “We knew, coming into this game, that this would be a hard one. We also changed the lineup a little bit which helped the energy.”

Pope John tied it in the fifth on an RBI ground out. Kilmer killed a sixth inning threat by fanning Pope John outfielder Aura Respoli on a nifty change-up. The third out stranded three Lion runners.

“I improved my mental game over the summer,” said sophomore Kilmer, who averages a strikeout per inning. “I worked on my self-confidence and coming out to the mound knowing I’m capable. I just have to keep working hard.”

But Kasabri retired the last 19 batters she faced. “I thought the girls did a good job of putting the ball in play. We weren’t just going up there and swinging at things like we had in the past,” Cegielski noted. Kasabri needed seven or more pitches to record several individual outs.

Low scoring is the exception with South Hunterdon. The Eagles scored 97 runs in their first 10 games and have a team batting average of .347.

Katelyn Carrier paced South Hunterdon with a .422 clip and 10 steals. Kilmer has eight extra base hits.

“We string together hits very well,” Badessa said. “One person will start us up and we’ll keep rolling off of that energy.”

“We don’t really have a big weak spot in our lineup,” Cegielski added. “All of the girls can come up big and put the ball in play.”

The Eagles (10-3, 9-1 conference) are still in first place and control their own destiny in the Skylands Mountain. They rebounded with a 15-11 win at Manville on Tuesday behind homers from Kilmer and Nicole Costantini. Rebecca Phillips added three hits.


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