Pburg strikes late to stun Hunt. Central softball, 6-2

By Bob Behre | May 6, 2022

Adrianna Tayner of Phillipsburg takes a cut during her teams’ three-run rally in seventh inning.

Addie Fornaciari tamed what was a red hot Hunterdon Central lineup and Holly Markus’ four hits spearheaded a 14-hit attack that guided Phillipsburg to a stunning 6-2 victory on Thursday in Flemington.

Unranked Phillipsburg came into the Skyland Conference road game at 5-8 against a 17th-ranked and 12-3 Hunterdon Central team that had outscored its previous four opponents 48-3. But it was the Stateliners who looked like the team with a hop in its step.

The righty-hitting Markus foreshadowed the type of afternoon the Red Devils were in for when she singled hard to right field at the end of an eight pitch at bat in the very first at bat of the game against Sarah DeStefano. The Red Devils’ righthander entered the game with a 1.03 ERA.

“I’ve been working more on going the other way, hitting gap-to-gap,” said Markus, 4-for-5 with a double, an RBI and two runs scored from the leadoff spot in the Stateliners’ batting order. “I was waiting to see how that would go in a game. That plan succeeded really well today.” Three of her hits went to the right side and the other shot through the middle of the diamond.

Markus and her teammates grinded out at bats, reached base on six infield hits and took advantage of three Hunterdon Central errors to, first, keep the game close and then to give itself an opportunity to close it out with a big inning.

Markus, who was either starting trouble or finishing it, singled home Riley Santos with two outs in the top of the sixth to stake Phillipsburg to a 3-2 lead. DeStefano had just struck out Phillipsburg’s No. 9 hitter to get an out away from extricating herself from trouble when Markus ripped a liner toward first baseman Natalie Lundari.

Lundari simply could not get her glove up quickly enough and the ball glanced off her glove, then the side of her head, bounding into foul territory. Santos scored easily from third, but second baseman Avery Spalter chased down the ball and gunned down Fornaciari, trying to score from second, at the plate for the third out. Lundari was down in pain, but seemed to be okay after being examined by the Red Devils training staff.

Righthander Addie Fornaciari, left, and leadoff hitter Holly Markus helped steer Phillipsburg past Hunterdon Central.

The 3-2 lead certainly didn’t seem imposing, considering Hunterdon Central  had two more at bats, including last licks, and their bats were bound to get back on track. But Fornaciari and an equally stubborn Phillipsburg defense, wouldn’t have it.

Cora Gilio reached with one out in the bottom of the sixth on a liner that shortstop Maggie Segreaves did a nice job stopping as she dove into the hole. But Segreaves could only knock it down and Gilio was safe. Isabella Ricci followed with a shot to left field but Elizabeth Donofry raced in, dove and came up with a nifty grab for the second out. Gilio then ran into a hot grounder by Riley Failla between first and second base for the third out.

“My curveball was there for me,” said Fornaciari, who mixed in a fastball, changeup, drop curve and screwball to keep the Red Devils batters guessing. “I starting feeling good in the fourth inning when Maggie (shortstop Segreaves) said, ‘Let’s go get this!’”

Hunterdon Central knew it had one more shot at spoiling Phillipsburg’s upset bid, but the Stateliners had other plans in their final at bat. The visitors would strike for three runs in the top of the seventh on three hits and two Hunterdon Central errors while sending nine batters to the plate to pull away to a 6-2 advantage.

Ra-Zyiah Brown-Smith ignited the three-run rally with a leadoff single through the middle, Segreaves reached on a throwing error, then cleanup hitter Paige Randazzo beat out a dribbler and an overthrow of second base brought Brown-Smith home for a 4-2 lead. Segreaves would score on a wild pitch and, after a Santos single and a Theresa Luongo walk, Adrianna Taynor reached on an error that brought home Randazzo for a 6-2 lead.

Theresa Luongo of Phillipsburg works a pinch-hit walk in the middle of her teams’s rally in the seventh inning.

“We’ve been working on getting all of our bats going at the same time,” said Phillipsburg veteran coach Kristin Boyer. “We’ve been playing good defense right along, so we got it all to come together today.”

Markus was one of the few bright spots in Phillipsburg’s first meeting with Hunterdon Central. The Stateliners dropped a 6-1 decision in the second game of the season to the Red Devils as Markus went 2-for-3 with a solo home run.

“We talked about team goals before the season,” said Markus. “Easton (Pa.) is our biggest rival but one of my goals was for us to beat Hunterdon Central. I actually wanted to beat them more than I did Easton.”

Markus scored after her single in the top of the first. She was sacrificed to second by Brown-Smith, moved to third on Segreaves grounder to shortstop and scored almost immediately on an errant throw back to the circle. Hunterdon Central should have known something was awry at that point.

The Red Devils struck for two runs in the third to take the lead and it was the bottom of its order that triggered the rally. Lundari led off and singled to left. Avery Spalter and Celia Totaro followed with perfect bunt singles to load the bases with no out. To Fornaciari’s credit, she minimized what could have been a huge rally.

Leadoff hitter Emily Walsh brought the tying run home on a sac fly to center field before third baseman Markus got the second out at home on a grounder by Samantha DelHoyo. DeStefano, the No. 3 hitter and batting .468 entering the game, singled to center to score the speedy Totaro from second for a 2-1 lead. But Fornaciari dodged a bullet when Donofry hauled in Gilio’s deep fly ball for the final out as she brushed against the left field fence.

Markus was in the middle of things again when the Stateliners scratched across the tying run, ripping a double into the right-center gap with one out in the fifth. She reached third on Brown-Smith’s bunt and Brown-Smith was called safe at first despite a fine play and throw by DeStefano that appeared to beat her. Segreaves’ bouncer to the left side scored Markus.

Fornaciari would face just two batters over the minimum over the final four innings, only permitting singles to Gilio and Emily Van Cleef, who had stepped in for Lundari. The Phillipsburg hurler permitted two runs on six hits, struck out two and, equally important, walked none.

“Addie kept them off balance,” said Boyer. “We’ve been talking a lot about hitting spots and she did that. Her catcher (Randazzo) called a good game. This was Addie’s best game of the year.”

NOTES: Santos went 3-for-4, reaching on singles in her last three at bats. She ripped a pair of shots to right field and beat out a slow roller down the third base line. … Brown-Smith went 2-for-3. … Markus is batting .378 on the season with nine RBI and eight extra-base hits, including three HRs.

Hunterdon Central shortstop Samanth DelHoyo, who played for Puerto Rico’s U-18 national team in the U-18 Women’s Softball World Cup in Lima, Peru in December, has been relegated of late to a DH role as she nurses a sore shoulder. DelHoyo, who entered the day batting .500 on the season, missed two games, both Hunterdon Central losses, at the outset of the injury. …

Freshman Zoe Totaro has filled DelHoya’s spot at shortstop admirably. She, in fact, made two outstanding plays against Philipsburg, one on a backhand in the hole, the other moving to her left toward the middle of the diamond.

… Hunterdon Central right fielder Gilio, who plays for the 18U Finch’s Aces out of Diamond Nation, showed off an impressive arm. She nearly threw out Markus at first on her single to right in the first. Gilio was very close to forcing Segreaves out at third on a single to right by Santos in the fourth. … Celia Totaro also plays for the 18U Finch’s Aces. … DeStefano permitted six runs, only three of which were earned, on 14 hits, struck out seven and walked one.

Hunterdon Central’s Sarah DeStefano works the circle as third baseman Isabella Ricci gets in position against Phillipsburg.
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