Rachel Dunn slides into the plate to score the first run for NJ Pride 14U Kiki.
By Sean Reilly
When Kaylan Bartolozzi visited Diamond Nation last spring with her NJ Pride teammates to compete in the Jennie Finch Spring Invitational, she had her batting helmet autographed by the softball legend and tournament host.
Rather than place the helmet aside as a piece of memorabilia, Bartolozzi instead wears it in every game, using it as a source of inspiration to play like Finch, the NCAA champion and Olympic gold medalist.
Bartolozzi had the helmet with her again on Saturday, as she returned to ‘The Nation’ to compete with her NJ Pride 14U Kiki team at this year’s Jennie Finch Spring Invitational.
Appropriately, much like Finch, she wound up as a pitching and hitting standout in leading her team to a 13-0 opening victory over the Staten Island Wolfpack in Flemington.
The NJ Pride followed that with a 7-2 win over Pocono Pride 14U before a third pool play game was rained out on Saturday.
The contest against the Staten Island Wolfpack (0-2) was settled in three innings.
Bartolozzi allowed three singles, all in succession in the second inning. But the second hit in that string also ended in an impressive double play, which took any drama out of the inning. She also finished with five strikeouts and one walk.
“My changeup, my screw and my curve were working really well,” she said. “Especially the changeup.”
At the plate, she went 2-for-2 with two doubles, accounting for two runs while driving in one.
The entire Pride lineup was locked in. In the bottom of the first inning, the first six batters all reached base and scored as part of an eight-run outburst.
“I kept swinging at the first pitch, because I thought that was the best one, and so did my other teammates,” Bartolozzi said. “We all just kept swinging at that pitch and hitting. It was a good way to start.”
Bartolozzi’s final at-bat in a tournament last weekend happened to be a pinch-hit grand slam.
“She worked really hard over the winter, so it’s fun to watch her come back out here and play,” said Pride coach Kiki Baldassari. “She was getting first-pitch strikes on so many batters, which was pretty amazing. Last week she had that grand slam moment and continued that today. She’s awesome.”
Leadoff batter Rachel Dunn launched the big inning for the Pride by reaching on a three-base error when her fly ball was dropped. She quickly scored on a wild pitch.
Savannah Mead reached on an infield single, stole two bases and scored on a grounds rule double to left field by Sofia Messinger. Julianna Santangello was up next, and she also hit an RBI double to left field for a 3-0 lead.
Francesca Cutillo followed with a single to center field that put runners on first and third for Bartolozzi, who hit an RBI double to deep left field.
Ava Florio grounded out to shortstop, with another run scoring to extend the Pride lead to 5-0. Bella Baez then supplied another grounds rule double to left field for the sixth run. The last two runs came on a triple by Gabriella Ladd and a ground out from Giuliana Alagia.
The Wolfpack started the second inning with back-to-back infield singles. When the lead runner tried to take third base, it turned into an impressively-turned 5-3-2-6 double play. Messinger, the Pride catcher, covered third base to make the tag on the throw across the diamond for the first out, and then threw to shortstop Baez covering second to get the second out.
“We’ve been working on that, and not sleeping,” Baldassari said. “As you get to the 14U level, the runners like to run all over you, and we don’t like that – we want to stop the momentum. The coverages were all there, which is something we work on and really value.”
Bartolozzi led off the third inning with her second double, which like all the others by her team, went to left field. Florio reached on an error and Baez walked to load the bases, and a walk to Ladd scored a run for a 9-0 lead. The remaining runs scored on a single by Dunn, ground out from Mead, and two-run hit courtesy of Messinger.
“They’re putting in the work,” Baldassari said. “It’s showing, and it’s awesome.”
“It’s always great to start off with a good win,” said Bartolozzi, who has nice memories of her meeting with Finch, also back in Flemington this weekend. “It was a cool experience to meet her. We also got a picture with her, and now I get to wear the helmet.”