Ashley Hammonds (16 Ks) and Zayla Zingaro (grand slam) were lights out for the S.J. Mystics.
By Rich Bevensee
If South Jersey Mystics coach Stacy Jones ever needs to count on one of her young ladies to come through in a tight spot, that individual very well may be Ashley Hammonds.
The 10-year-old hurler for the Mystics not only possesses an accurate pitching arm and a distinct sense for the strike zone, she has a maturity about her which belies her limited months in high level softball.
In her team’s first game in the Jennie Finch Spring Invitational, Hammonds peppered the strike zone to earn a season-high strikeout total. Better yet, she was undeterred when falling into trouble, bouncing back with quick outs to halt further damage.
Hammonds pitched a five-hitter with 16 strikeouts and no walks, and supported her own cause with a solo home run. Jayla Zingaro backed Hammonds’ terrific effort with a late grand slam home run to propel the Mystics to a 13-4 victory over the CLCF Bombers of Cranston, R.I., on Saturday afternoon at Diamond Nation.
“I guess I’d give myself a B, because I know I could have done better,” Hammonds said.
“When I wasn’t throwing strikes I would just refocus and listen to my coach and my teammates,” she said. “And Kinsley (Hagan, the Mystics catcher) always tells me to calm down and focus. I rely a lot on her because I feel more calm when she talks to me.”
Hagan didn’t have to do too much calming on Saturday. Hammonds gave up a first-inning triple to her Bombers counterpart, Isabella Marcano, but stranded her there with a pair of strikeouts, and she struck out the side the next two innings, and in the fifth inning as well. She did not allow a single batter in the Bombers’ bottom half of the 10-batter lineup to reach base.
Hammonds yielded two-run home runs in the fourth and sixth innings, but her teammates backed her when Zingaro ripped a grand slam in the fifth and the Mystics tacked on five more runs in the sixth.
“She’s pretty regular,” Jones said of her ace. “When she gets in a regular groove she’s pretty good. There are times when she starts missing and it takes a few pitches to get back, but it never takes her very long.”
The Mystics greeted their Rhode Island opponent abruptly in the top of the first inning when Emily Faux slapped a single through the left side and raced all the way around thanks to an outfield error. Hammonds, the next batter, made it 2-0 with an opposite field solo home run to right.
Kalli Robitaille and Katelynne Jones added single runs in the third and fourth innings, respectively, by stealing home for a 4-0 Mystics lead.
The Bombers, who chose the Jennie Finch event to make their season debut this spring, cut their deficit in half in the bottom of the fourth when Alexa Okolowitz sent a laser into the left center gap for a two-run homer.
To Hammonds’ credit, after allowing another Bomber to reach third that inning, struck out the next two batters to curb any further harm.
No sooner had the Bombers climbed back into the contest when Zingaro, the Mystics’ second baseman, crushed an opposite field shot to right for her grand slam and an 8-2 lead.
“I saw she (the right fielder) wasn’t getting the ball so I knew I was going to second,” said Zangaro, who noted how quickly the ball travels on the Diamond Nation turf. “I saw it went to the fence and I went to third because Coach told me to. I like playing on the turf because the ball moves faster.”
Bombers’ right fielder Emma Bobeck, who one inning earlier made a terrific running catch for the game’s top web gem, helped stop the bleeding in the fifth after Zingaro’s slam when she ran down a fly ball and then flipped to Zingaro, who quickly threw to first baseman Jones to complete a double play.
The Mystics added five runs in the top of the sixth to cement the victory. Gianna Hardymon brought home a run with a hit by pitch, Kinna Barsch had a groundout RBI and Zingaro slapped an RBI single.
Isabella Marcano, who left the circle after four innings for Olivia Graziano, took some of the sting out of having to deal with the difficult Mystics lineup (six earned runs, three hits, five walks, seven strikeouts) with a two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth before Hammonds retired the next three Bombers to end the game.
“She was awesome,” Bombers coach Lalo Marcano said of Hammonds. “That’s why we came here, to face that kind of competition.”
Marcano, who pointed out that spring in New England is even more brutal and unpredictable than in New Jersey, said he didn’t regret opening his team’s season at Diamond Nation.
“I want our girls to understand what tournament ball is all about,” Marcano said. “We were looking forward to coming here, regardless of the score today, and we were not disappointed. This place is beautiful – state of the art – and I wish we had something like this in Rhode Island.”
The Mystics (2-0) and Bombers (1-1) finish up pool play this morning with 8 a.m. contests and hope to improve their respective playoff seeding. The 10U playoffs begin at 11 a.m.