Aubrey Griffith of Fury Fastpitch executes a squeeze bunt to score Rosie Wheeler from third.
By Sean Reilly
Hannah Kauffman picked an ideal way to celebrate her 13th birthday.
Kauffman, a standout for the Fury Fastpitch ‘10, played an instrumental role in helping her team from Corning, N.Y., win two of three games on Saturday at the 12U Jennie Finch Spring Invitational at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else for my birthday than on a softball field,” she said. “It’s one of the best parts of my life, playing along with my friends. To win a couple of games makes it even better.”
The Fury competed last year at the Jennie Finch tournament as an 11U team playing in the 12U bracket, a strategy they continued throughout the year. Now they are the same age as the competition, and the experience gained in 2022 is evident.
“It’s paying off a lot,” Kauffman said. “We’re used to the competition.”
The Fury, who continued tournament action with a playoff game on Sunday morning, opened on Saturday with a 9-1 victory over Hops Fastpitch 12U. The second game was a narrow 3-2 setback against the Connecticut Seahawks 12U Thunder Gold.
The Fury’s final game of the day was a 9-4 triumph over the East Coast Panthers, after which the team and its coaches serenaded Kauffman by singing “Happy Birthday To You.”
Kauffman had several hits on the day, including a double with a run scored against the Delaware-based East Coast Panthers, and entered to pitch with one out in the sixth and final inning of that game in support of winning pitcher Rosie Wheeler.
“It was a long day, but they finished strong,” said Fury coach John Mahon. “Hannah usually hits from two to five in the lineup, but she’s one of our power hitters. She lines the ball all over the place, produces a lot of runs and leads our team in batting average. She’s been with us since she was in 9U and we’re super happy to have her on the team.”
The Fury put the ball in play and were extremely aggressive on the bases, a formula that combined with the pitching of Wheeler led to the victory over the Panthers, who ended the day with a 1-2 record.
The Fury took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second, when Wheeler led off with a single to left field, moved to second on a passed ball and crossed to third on a fly out to left field. She then scored on a safety squeeze bunt by Aubrey Griffith.
The Panthers used a single, error and hit batter to load the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the second. Alyssa Boyer then delivered a two-run single, but Wheeler retired the next three batters.
The Fury went in front by scoring four times in the fourth. And once again, aggressiveness played a major role in the rally.
Kauffman, who batted third in the lineup, led off with a ball hit to left field which she stretched into a double. After a fly out, Bella Beres also stretched a ball hit into left field for a double that scored Kauffman for a 2-2 tie.
Aubrey Maticic then reached on a two-base error which scored Beres. Griffith dropped down a bunt, and an overthrow past first scored Maticic. Griffith then came home when Lillian Holevinski singled to center, making the score 5-2.
The Fury added three more runs in the fifth, with Wheeler hitting a sacrifice fly, Bella Beres hitting a fielder’s choice which scored a run, and Maticic reaching on an error for an 8-2 lead.
Griffith led off the sixth inning with a single, advanced to third on an error and scored on a wild pitch.
Wheeler, meanwhile, was in total control in the circle. She took a string of 11 straight outs into the sixth inning before tiring a bit after opening that inning with her sixth strikeout.
The Panthers wound up getting an RBI single that inning from Katie Pinand, who also came around on an error before Kauffman got the final two outs.
“Once we got going, we were alright,” Mahon said. “It was an awesome day. We do take chances out there, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We get the girls out there running around and having fun, and I think that’s the way softball should be played.”
After leaving Diamond Nation on Saturday, Kauffman planned on going back to the team hotel for a swim and birthday celebration with her teammates.
“She’s also been our closer,” Mahon said. “She’s always shutting the door. She’s a steady competitor and we’re so happy to have her.”