Darby Revock drops down a sacrifice bunt for NJ Pride 14U-Kiki.
By Sean Reilly
Storm Academy was dealt a major blow on Sunday morning before its Round of 16 playoff game at the Diamond Nation 14U Finch’s Aces Fall Invitational even began.
The pitcher for the Long Island team was struck by a throw while warming up after the team took the field in the top of the first, and could not continue for precautionary reasons.
Aside from losing their starting hurler, the Storm Academy players had to deal with the psychological factor of the unexpected injury to a teammate.
That’s where Tiffany Matthews and Keira Ulmschneider entered the picture.
Both players flourished, and helped second-seeded Storm Academy beat 18th-seeded NJ Pride-Kiki, 6-4, in Flemington.
Matthews moved from the bench into the now vacated seventh spot in the batting order. Ulmschneider, meanwhile, slid from an extra hitter spot into the pitcher’s role.
Matthews went 2-for-2 and hit a three-run triple with two out in the bottom of the first inning.
Ulmschneider pitched a four-inning four hitter despite barely warming up, and added an RBI single.
“At first, I was really shaky because my teammate got hurt,” Ulmschneider said. “But then I overcame it and I did well, and I’m proud of myself and our team.”
Ulmschneider did throw a bit before the game, but it was hardly a full-throttle warmup.
Bella Baez led off the game with a hard single to right field for the Pride, and she was sacrificed to second and moved to third on a ground out.
After issuing one of her two walks in game, Ulmschneider got an inning-ending strikeout, and was officially settled in.
“I did warm up a little, but not to my full potential since my coach told me I wasn’t going to pitch in this game,” she said. “When I got in, I was honestly nervous, but then I just got used to it. When I’m on the mound, I don’t really think about anything else, so I was just very focused on hitting my spots, taking deep breaths and thinking, ‘I’ve got this.’”
Storm Academy then erupted for five runs in the bottom of the first, all with two out.
Alexa Mifsud started the rally with a single to center field. Katelyn Agulles also singled to center, with Mifsud holding at second. Frankie Dato followed with an RBI single to left field, with Agulles stopping at third and Dato taking second on a throw.
Deanna DeLutri walked on a full count to load the bases for a pivotal at-bat by Matthews.
“There was a lot of pressure,” Matthews said. “I was a little nervous.”
Matthews didn’t show any trepidation in her at-bat. After fouling off a couple of pitches, she ripped a three-run triple to the gap in left-center field.
Tiffany Matthews locks in on her three-run triple in the bottom of the first for Storm Academy.
“It felt really good,” she said. “All I knew was that I had to make contact.”
Ulmschneider was up next, and hit a run-scoring single to left field for a 5-0 lead.
“It felt really good for me to get that hit, because I’ve been in a little bit of a slump,” she said.
The lead also helped Ulmschneider pitch with more comfort, and she allowed no hits in the second and third innings.
The Pride put forth a serious comeback bid in the top of the fourth.
Maya Zimmerman led off that inning with a single to left field, and with one out, pinch hitter Julianne Covello walked on a full count. Bella Husti was then safe on an error that loaded the bases.
Surge Academy positioned its infield in, and Avital Kandil took advantage by hitting a ball that dropped just onto the green outfield turf in left field. By the time it was retrieved, it went for a two-run double. Gabby Blumert followed with an RBI single past the pitcher to get the Pride within 5-3, and she would score on a sacrifice fly to center from Baez.
With the tying run on second base, a first-pitch line drive was caught by Ulmschneider for the third out.
With the time clock starting to wind down, Storm Academy had a chance to end the game if it mounted a sustained bottom of the fourth, and that’s exactly what happened.
DeLutri led off by beating out a single to second base, and Matthews followed by hitting a single in front of the plate. Ulmschneider then bunted the runners into scoring position. Lia Murray was safe on a short infield single that loaded the bases, and Emerson Urtheil walked to score the sixth run.
The next batter was safe on a fielder’s choice that forced out the lead runner at home, and that was followed by a fly out as time expired.
Storm Academy’s playoff run ended with a 4-1 record following a 10-7 loss to DE Stars Fastpitch in the quarterfinals.