By Bob Behre


Jen Sweeney pitched a two-hitter and Tsunami Gold manufactured a run in the top of the sixth inning to squeak past the Finch’s Aces 18U Premier, 2-1, in nailing down the Finch’s Aces 18U Fall Invitational championship last night at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

A total of seven championships were crowned over the weekend in five age groups in the 71-team Fall Invitational. Olympic softball legend Jennie Finch opened the three-day event with a clinic on Friday night and spent the day Saturday interacting with the 10-to-18 year old athletes.

Sweeney, a freshman at the University of Scranton, struck out five and walked three and the lone run she permitted was unearned as she leaned on her breaking balls to keep the Aces 18U Premier squad off balance.

“My breaking pitches were working great,” said Sweeney. “Especially the screwball.”

Justyne D’Ascoli reached on an infield single with one out in the top of the sixth as Tsunami knotted the score at 1-1. D’Ascoli moved to third on a pair of wild pitches by reliever Maggie Swan with Brenna Dolan at the plate. Swan then struck out Dolan on a breaking ball in the dirt. Aces catcher Julia Loffredo fired to first base to get Dolan for the second out but D’Ascoli, breaking from third, barely beat first baseman Kassidy Peterson’s throw back to the plate.

The 2-1 lead suddenly loomed large with the Aces Premier down to its final two at bats. Sweeney would make the lead stand.

Kylie Gletow, who started and pitched four quality innings for the Aces Premier, drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the seventh. But Gletow was caught off first base when Sweeney turned a Peterson line drive into a double play. Sweeney would face the bottom of the 13-batter-deep Aces lineup in the seventh and with a few anxious moments.

Gianna Colalillo, the No. 10 hitter, led off the inning by hitting a sinking liner to center field. But Tsunami center fielder Samantha Romano charged in and made an outstanding sliding catch for the first out. That would prove more critical when Julia Martine drew a one-out walk. Martine put together a remarkable at bat in which she fouled off pitch after pitch before working the walk.

That brought up Megan Hanily who put Sweeney through another long, grueling battle. Hanily worked the count to 2-2 and fouled off three pitches before Sweeney ended the game by getting her swinging at a fastball on the outside corner.

“Jen threw beautifully,” said Tsunami coach Ray Romano. “It was all about getting to this game. Three girls before here pitched well. It was the first time she touched the ball today and she was great.”

The Aces Premier scored its lone run in the first inning after leadoff batter Olivia Burd hit a bouncer over Sweeney’s head and into center field for a single. Burd then stole second and reached third on a wild pitch. Burd scored when Dewey Grundhauser’s bouncer to the right side was misplayed.

Tsunami tied the game at 1-1 in the top of the second when cleanup hitter Jenna Devens led off the inning with a booming shot over the center fielder’s head. Devens had a triple for sure and just kept running all the way home when the relay was misplayed. Marli Welter tripled into the left-center field gap with two outs but Gletow got D’Ascoli to bounce out to third to end the threat.

Tsunami catcher Samantha Perez, who homered in the first game of the tournament and caught all of the team’s six games, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

“I’m exciting to have this group of girls together,” said Romano. “They have great chemistry and are really coming together.”

Team Long Island (6-1) defeated Carteret Kraze 10U Blue, 14-0, to secure the 10U Fall Invitational championship. The Banshees (6-0) edged the Delaware Cobras (5-1), 3-0, in the 12U Gold championship game. The South Jersey Mystics Hudec (2-1-2) took home the 12U Silver crown with a 7-1 decision over the Delaware Vipers (2-3-1).

Crusaders Fastpitch Purple (6-0) squeaked past Adadema Elite Futures (5-2), 3-2, in the 14U Gold final. Team Long Island (4-2) outlasted the NJ Venom (2-2-1) in the 14U Silver title game. The Razorbacks (6-0) followed a 4-3 victory over Spitfire (4-1) in the semifinals with a wild 6-5 victory over the Impact Panthers (5-1) in the 16U final.