By Rich Bevensee
The march to the title was anything but expected.
That’s not to say the New York Lady Nightmares 14U Premier softball team didn’t have the talent to match up with the best clubs at Diamond Nation.
But since the Long Island-based squad was making its season debut, and since inclement weather forced the Lady Nightmares to endure a gauntlet of games in a single day, a championship seemed far from possible.
And yet the Lady Nightmares persevered. Faced with surviving a six-game stretch, they upended three of the top five seeds en route to the final.
Then, riding the arm of pitcher Jaeda Bartfield, the Lady Nightmares won their sixth straight game of the day, besting Connecticut Seahawks Thunder Gold, 9-2, to become the unlikely 14U champions of the Jennie Finch Spring Invitational on Sunday evening at ‘The Nation’ in Flemington.
“It took a team effort and every single one of our girls battled,” said Lady Nightmares coach Marvin Rodriuguez. “We’re all tired after today, and I’m grateful to have these girls on the team.”
Bartfield, who pitched three games on Sunday – including a two-inning relief stint against top-seeded Finch’s Aces-Russo in the semifinals and all four innings of the championship game – was visibly gassed by the time she recorded a strikeout for the final out of the tournament.
Bartfield was magnificent through three innings against the Seahawks, mapping out a one-hit shutout, before tiring in the fourth. Her final line was two earned runs on three hits and three walks with three strikeouts in four innings.
“I am very tired, like my arm is going to fall off right now,” said Bartfield, who earned the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award. “I have to always have confidence, so when I’m feeling tired I just say to myself, have confidence, dig deep and get this pitch.”
Bartfield helped her own cause at the plate with a triple, a walk and a double. She also drove in a run and scored twice.
Because severe inclement weather scrapped some of Saturday’s pool play games, the Lady Nightmares played only one pool play game on Saturday and one on Sunday and had a third game canceled.
Once the playoffs began, the Lady Nightmares entered single elimination as the 12 seed and began with a 7-2 verdict against No. 21 seed Staten Island Wolfpack Fastpitch (7-2).
The Lady Nightmares then had to knock off fifth-seeded Kraze 14U Blue (17-0), fourth-seeded Connecticut Lightning (10-5) in the quarterfinals and the top seed and host program Finch’s Aces (6-4) in the semis.
By the time the first pitch was thrown between the Lady Nightmares and Seahawks, it was already past 9 p.m. courtesy of the weather-related scheduled adjustment.
“I think we made adjustments as the day progressed,” Rodriguez said. “We had a lot of fire in our bellies and I’m thankful for that.”
“I’d say we have a lot of drive,” Bartfield said. “We’re all ready to go home, but this means a lot. This puts us out there with other teams from out of state.”
The Seahawks, based in Monroe, Conn., entered elimination play as the sixth seed, but their path was nearly as difficult as their Long Island opponent. And making their trek to the final more difficult was the possibility of playing five games on Sunday.
The Seahawks defeated the seventh-seeded Langhorne Lightning (9-2) and No. 22 Rhode Island Storm (8-0) to reach the quarterfinals. The Seahawks then bounced third-seeded New Jersey Pride 14U Kiki, 5-3, and second-seeded Hericanes Red (6-5) to reach the championship game.
In the final, the Lady Nightmares showed no signs of fatigue at the plate, jumping to an early 3-0 lead in the first inning. Bartfield cranked an RBI triple into right field, Avery Stuart drove in a run after reaching on an error, and Nicole Beranto drilled an opposite-field single for another run.
Stuart provided more offense in the second inning with a two-run single through the middle which gave the Lady Nightmares a 5-0 lead.
Avery Ford tacked on two more runs for the East Meadow, Long Island, girls with a double to center. And in the fourth inning, Stuart’s bat came through again, this time with an RBI single. Jaylene Rodriguez added an RBI groundout for a 9-0 lead.
The Seahawks finally got to Bartfield with two runs in the bottom of the fourth. Lucy Kaiser reached on a fielder’s choice and later scored on a Mia Tyler single. Gabby Fontaine, who followed Kaiser with a walk, eventually stole home after a pickoff attempt at first base.