NJ Pride’s Abbie Trenk squares before dropping down the squeeze bunt that scored Gabby Ladd.
By Sean Reilly
From the time Phil Alagia teamed with his late best friend Anthony LaRezza to launch what became the NJ Pride softball organization more than 30 years ago, there have been certain things which turned into hallmarks of their program.
High on the list is a constant desire for Pride teams to execute small things which lead to big results. That means actions like runners taking an extra base, hitters getting bunts down and infielders making alert defensive plays. Add in other aspects like timely hitting and clutch pitching, and it’s no wonder the NJ Pride has always been successful.
The NJ Pride 12P team is taking part in the 12U Jennie Finch Spring Invitational at Diamond Nation, and it put forth all of those traditional elements in its final contest in a three-game opening day, a 3-1 decision over the Montgomery Devils Red from New York State on Saturday afternoon in Flemington.
Pride pitcher Natalia Marecki was perfect through the first four innings, and finished with a three-hitter with eight strikeouts and no walks.
Abbie Trenk squeezed home the first run in a two-run third inning, which also included a two-out RBI single from Bella Baez for a 2-0 lead.
After Montgomery got a run back and had runners on second and third with two out in the bottom of the fifth, charging third baseman Rachel Dunn fielded a bunt and threw hard and on and target to first baseman Kaylan Bartolozzi for the third out.
“It’s a lot of fun to be here,” Alagia said. “They did some great things. We got the leadoff girl on in the third, got two great bunts down, we were aggressive, stole another base and got a second run. At this level, you see that stolen bases are about 95 percent successful, but bunts are 50/50. We bunted and got on three or four times. They bunted three or four times and and I think we got an out every time.”
And then there was the pitching.
Marecki realized early on that she didn’t have full command of her pitches, so she made an important adjustment, yet still thrived.
“A couple of my pitches weren’t working,” Marecki said. “Even if they hit it, I knew my team had my back. My curveballs weren’t working that well, so I went more with the screwball.”
“That’s the sign of a great pitcher,” Alagia said. “She didn’t have her best stuff early on, adjusted and figured it out. She still went 1-2-3 with the top of the lineup and then was lights out.
“She’s a special pitcher who I’m so excited to watch next year, in high school and in college,” Alagia said. “She’s got a tremendous work ethic. She hits her spots, her ball moves and she’s one of the better 12U pitchers in the area.”
The top of the third for the Pride began with Gabby Ladd reaching on a two-base error. Giuliana Alagia dropped a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance Ladd to third, and she scored on the squeeze bunt from Trenk. Arianna Zajac then singled, stole second and scored on a base hit to center field by Baez.
Montgomery got its first baserunner when catcher Kadi Holt led off the home fifth with a single to center. A sacrifice bunt sent courtesy runner Addison Freiberger to third, and she scored on a two-out single by Autumn Gove. Samantha Maleck then singled Gove to third and took second on a throw, but the perfectly-fielded bunt by third baseman Dunn ended the inning.
The Pride added an important insurance run in the sixth, with Trenk and Zajac reaching on bunt singles. Trenk advanced to third on an error, and Baez was intentionally walked to load the bases. After a force out at the plate, Dunn hit a sacrifice fly to center.
Marecki then pitched a clean bottom of the inning to close out her exceptional outing.
The win gave the Pride a 2-1 record on the day, which started with a 6-3 win over East Coast Tsunami Blue that was followed by a 7-2 loss to the Connecticut Lightning in its second game. The Pride are seeded 13th in Sunday’s 32-team single-elimination phase, and will face 20th-seed Rock Gold.
Montgomery Devils Red were also 2-1 on the day, having beaten Connecticut Lightning, 4-1, and East Coast Tsunami Blue, 8-4. The Devils Red drew the 11th seed for Sunday, and will face the 22nd seed SJ Mystics in the first round.