By Sean Reilly
Sofia Esterline is a new player this fall for the Lady Dukes 12U, and she’s getting quite comfortable playing for the team.
Likewise, the Lady Dukes are very much enjoying her presence in the lineup.
Esterline capped a weekend of outstanding hitting with a 2-for-4, two RBI performance to boost the Lady Dukes to an 11-1 victory over the Central Jersey Lightning in the final of the 12U Finch’s Aces Fall Invitational on Sunday at Diamond Nation.
The Lady Dukes ended the weekend with a 6-1 record and 42-14 run differential. Four of those wins came on Sunday. Esterline caught in two of those games, including the championship matchup. She was also selected the tournament MVP.
“This was a lot of fun,” she said. “We got our energy up and won a bunch of games.”
The day for the New Jersey/Lehigh Valley group, which was seeded sixth in the playoffs field, began with a 4-3 win over 11th-seeded Intensity 12U. That was significant, since the Intensity beat the Lady Dukes, 5-2, on Saturday.
“That was a big one, and it felt really good,” she said.
That was followed by a 10-0 win over the third-seeded NBNM Rebels and a 7-1 triumph over seventh-seeded Empire Youth Athletics to reach the final.
That set up a championship matchup against a familiar opponent, the Central Jersey Lightning. It was also a challenging one, since the Lightning was the top seed, with a 6-0 record and 43-7 run difference.
The Lady Dukes were ready, and set an immediate tone in the top of the first.
Amanda Tuccillo led off with a single to third base and advanced on a wild pitch. With one out, Grace Dixon hit a run-scoring triple to center field. She scored when Julie Falvey followed with a single to center.
The Lightning put runners on second and third with two out in the bottom of the inning, but Dixon, the Lady Dukes pitcher, induced a ground out to second base to end the inning and maintain the lead.
The Lady Dukes, meanwhile, kept adding runs, by scoring three times in both the third and fourth innings.
Tuccillo, who reached base in all four of her at-bats and scored three times, led off the third with a walk. Esterline then hit a hard single to right field that was misplayed by the charging outfielder, which allowed Tuccillo to score and sent Esterline to third. Dixon, who ended 1-for-3 with three RBI, grounded out to the pitcher, with Esterline scoring after a well-timed break to the plate. Falvey (2-for-3) singled, went to second on a wild pitch, moved to third on a ground out and scored on another wild pitch.
In the fourth inning, Sam Dosch and Izzy Seno reached on consecutive errors with one out. Tuccillo walked to load the bases. Esterline then hit a two-run single for a 7-0 lead. The inning also included an RBI fielder’s choice groundout from Dixon.
Sofia Esterline of the Lady Dukes was named the 12U FInch’s Aces Fall Inv. MVP
Dixon, who finished with a three-hitter, took a string of seven straight retired batters into the bottom of the fourth.
Gwen Guzzi ended that streak by leading off that inning for the Lightning with a single to center. She stole second, and scored when Izzy Berman (2-for-2) singled to center.
Dixon, who totaled four strikeouts and two walks, got out of the inning with a pop out in foul territory to Esterline behind the plate and strikeout.
The Lady Dukes scored three times again in the fifth, with all of the offense coming with two out.
Pinch hitter Gabby Dixon singled to center, and walks to Dosch and Seno followed. The ball four pitch to Seno went past the catcher, allowing Dixon to score. A wild pitch and an error scored the other two runs.
The game ended via the mercy rule in the bottom of the fifth, with Dixon getting the final two outs on a ground out to second and pop up to second.
“She was hitting her spots really well the whole game,” Esterline said.