Sarah DeStefano pitched the game of her young athletic life and Hunterdon Central unleashed a 13-hit barrage on the way to an 8-0 victory over Pope John in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament championship game on Tuesday in Stanhope.
DeStefano, a junior, struck out six and walked none and faced just three batters over the minimum in a tidy three-hitter that made the lethality of the Hunterdon Central lineup that much more oppressive on the Lenape Valley High turf.
The championship was the sixth for Hunterdon Central since the tournament moved to a tri-county format in 2011. Pope John was seeking its third HWS softball crown. The Red Devils also own 13 Hunterdon-Warren championships.
Third-seeded Hunterdon Central (19-4) struck for three runs in the third inning off Hailey Clarke then never really let the ninth-seeded Lions up for air, striking for two runs in the fourth and three more runs in the sixth to put the game away.
DeStefano also made six defensive plays from her spot in the circle and drove in the game’s first run with a single through the middle in the third. So, when it came to naming a Most Valuable Player in the game, that committee of media members had nothing to belabor. It was DeStefano is a landslide.
“Sarah really hit her spots and she had a lot of pop on the ball today,” said Hunterdon Central coach Kelly Reider. “She moved it well up and down and they were falling for her bait.”
DeStefano did an excellent job reeling in a potent Pope John lineup with a deftly placed assortment of fastball, curveballs, drops and changeups.
“My drop and my curveball were good today,” said DeStefano, “but it wasn’t my hardest fastball.” But the fastball looked plenty hard after the Pope John batters had to fish for her off-speed stuff, not to mention a stifling changeup that DeStefano, at first, forget to mention. “Oh and my changeup was real good too.”
Yes it was. Most importantly, DeStefano kept her pitches down in the strike zone and had Pope John hitters beating the ball into the ground on eight groundouts.
“Once we got our first runs, I trusted my defense and knew our bats would deliver,” said DeStefano.
The Hunterdon Central bats did deliver in a big way.
The Red Devils’ leadoff hitter Samantha DelHoya started the rally in the third with a one-out double to left field. DeStefano followed with her RBI single. McKayla Yard reached on a fielder’s choice and DeStefano was safe at second as Pope John flubbed the force out attempt at second. Cleanup hitter Lea Kosinski hit a laser single off the left field fence that scored DeStefano for a 2-0 lead. After the dangerous Nayla Sapia reached on another infield error, Yard scored on a force out at third base.
Yard would come up big in the fourth after Hunterdon Central loaded the bases with none out. DeStefano hit into a force out at the plate, but Yard jumped on Clarke’s first pitch and drilled a single to left field that delivered the Red Devils fasted two runners, Celia Totaro and DelHoyo. Suddenly, Pope John was in a 5-0 hole with just three at bats remaining.
“It was on the inner half and I think it was a screw,” said Yard, who also singled in the first inning and scored a run in the third. “I was able to turn on it.” The bottom of the Red Devils order ignited the rally. Avery Spalter, the No. 8 hitter, ripped a leadoff single to center and Totaro drew a walk. DelHoyo then beat out a slow roller to the right side to load the bases.
The thunder that the Hunterdon Central lineup has been noted for this year – the team entered the game with 37 home runs – reared its imposing head in the sixth.
Kosinski came up with two outs and the bases empty but showed how fast her team can score when she launched a home run to straightaway center field. It was her eighth home run of the season and extended the lead to 6-0. Sapia then stepped in with her team leading nine home runs and 37 RBI and settled for a double to left-center field. But Isabella Ricci wasn’t satisfied staying in the park and ripped a liner to left-center that just cleared the fence for a two-run home run, her fifth of the season, and an 8-0 lead.
Kosinski was locked on a 1-2 pitch and guessed right.
“I saw she threw a changeup before in that count and I just sat on it,” she said. “I got it and knew it was gone.”
Yard felt the good vibes coming into the championship game.
“I felt confident coming here today,” said Yard. “I felt good at the plate and wanted to jump on that first strike.”
It was a very confident Hunterdon Central team that set its focus on a championship and delivered with a gem of a performance.
NOTES: DeStefano contributed to seven outs defensively. Four came on grounders back to her, one of which was deflected to DelHoyo at shortstop and turned into a 1-6-3 out at first base. Two were lined drives, the second of which was turned into a 1-3 double play in the sixth inning. … Angelina Barbero, Pope John’s dynamic leadoff hitter, had two of the Lions’ three hits. She also lined out to Kate Koep in left field leading off the game.
… Pope John shortstop Emma Fernstrom had the other hit for her team, a two-out single in the first. She also made a terrific diving stop in the hole to rob Totaro of an RBI single for the third out of the sixth…. DelHoyo was 2-for-4 and scored two runs, Kosinski was 1-for-3 with an RBI and a run-scored. She also lined out hard to the mound and flew out to the fence in left in the fourth. Ricci was 2-for-4 with three RBI. Spalter had two hits and Totaro had a bunt single, drew a walk and scored a run. … Seven different Red Devils scored a run, eight of nine batters had a hit and all nine batters reached base.
… Pope John’s HWS titles came in 2013 and ’17. Hunterdon Central’s previous HWS crowns were in 2011, ’15, ’16 and ’19. The Red Devils own Hunterdon-Warren titles in 1994, ’95, ’96, ’98, 2000, ’01, ’02, ’03, ’04, ’05, ’07, ’08, ’09 and 2010.