Katie Gronda drove in two runs for East Coast Tsunami.
By Rich Bevensee
Kayleigh McClain completely covered her right wrist and lower forearm with KT tape as a precaution, and she had been diligent with her icing and stretching. And still, after every pitch and every swing of the bat, the 15-year old pitcher was masking the pain which stemmed from tendonitis.
Which made her performance on Sunday afternoon in the quarterfinal round of the Finch’s Aces Fall Invitational that much more exceptional.
McClain gutted through five innings and kept the damage to a minimum while her fourth-seeded East Coast Tsunami 18U Gold teammates got the offense humming early en route to a 7-4 victory over the fifth-seeded EC Bullets 16U White at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“Honestly I try to tough it out the best I can,” said McClain, a Randolph sophomore who said her pain level was a 7 on a 1-10 scale while allowing four runs on seven hits and no walks with three strikeouts.
“I can feel it on my release, but when I’m batting is when it hurts the most,” she said. “I make sure I’m staying in touch with my coaches and if it’s getting too bad we’ll make some changes.”
But McClain never asked for relief. She gave up a pair of runs in the second and fourth innings but otherwise kept the Bullets at bay with fastballs, drops and changeups. She stranded runners at third in the first and third innings, and she pitched a clean fifth to squash the Bullets’ hopes.
“I thought she played amazing today,” said Tsunami catcher Katie Gronda, a senior at Passaic Tech. “I know during the summer she wasn’t even able to throw a ball. To see how far she’s come, averaging 52 miles an hour, is amazing. Her pitching today was on point. She was hitting her spots inside, outside, up, down. I’m very proud of her.”
“Kay is Steady Eddie,” Tsunami coach B.J. Martin said. “She doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low. Nothing rattles her. She mixes her pitches well, and the most important thing is she’s confident and she owns the mound.”
The Tsunami saw its tournament ride cut short by Finch’s Aces 18U-Cahill in the semifinals and finished the weekend 2-3.
Kayleigh McClain ignored pain in her wrist and lasted all five innings for the East Coast Tsunami.
The Bullets, who in pool play lost to the Tsunami, 1-0, and suffered a heartbreaking 7-5 loss to eventual champion Central PA Havoc Elite, concluded their weekend 0-4.
The Tsunami set the tone early in the quarterfinal with four runs in the bottom of the first inning, ensuring there would be no repeat of their narrow pool play victory over the Bullets from Saturday.
Katie Gronda ignited the four-run rally with an RBI groundout, Emma Politz stroked an RBI single, and Olivia Blanco capped her nine-pitch at bat with a ringing, two-out, two-run single.
“Even though we beat them yesterday, we felt we should have done better,” Gronda said. “We worked on the things we didn’t do correctly, and we came in here not with the confidence we won yesterday, but with a vengeance we should have beaten them more. Intensity the whole game was very high and that’s what put us over the edge.”
The Bullets responded in their next at bat by cutting their deficit in half, as Ashley Diaz and Madi Saraceno both scored on a two-out infield error in the top half of the second.
The Tsunami was not done building its lead. Gronda added an RBI single in the third inning, and in the fourth, Blanco drove in a run with a groundout and Rebecca Dasti added a sacrifice fly for a 7-2 lead.
The Bullets’ last offensive gasp came in the fourth, as Diaz scored from first on an infield throwing error and Cait Leay tacked on an RBI single.
Luci Magnotta pitched well in relief for the Bullets, throwing 2⅔ scoreless innings with no hits or walks allowed and two strikeouts.