Subtle adjustments guide Finch’s Aces to 18U triumph

By DN WRITING STAFF | October 2, 2022

Celia Totaro of the Finch’s Aces 18U slaps away on her way to a 2-hit game against the Mystics.

By Rich Bevensee

After dropping a close game to an extremely competitive Lady Dukes team, changes were necessary if the Finch’s Aces 18U club was to go home with a split of the day’s games on Saturday.

Not drastic changes, but changes nonetheless. 

“Adjustments. We teach making adjustments as the game goes along,” Aces coach Scott Cahill said. “We tried to do a little too much in that last game, maybe. Trying to put too many hits in different spots.”

After being held to a single run in their first game of the 18U Finch’s Aces Fall Invitational, the Aces bounced back with the kind of mentality Cahill and his staff are trying to instill in their players. 

Celia Totaro had two hits with an RBI, Belle Cornish-DiDonato doubled and drove in a run, and 10 of the 11 Aces reached base safely at least once in a 9-4, four-inning victory over New Jersey Mystics Premier on a rainy evening at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

“They adjusted really well to a different style of pitching, different off speed stuff,” Cahill said. “We did a really nice job adjusting to what they were giving them. And I think they did a nice job layering the hits, one after another. It was a better complete game as a team than the first game.”

Madison Lardieri, a junior at Bernards, surrendered four runs on four hits and five walks with five strikeouts through four innings. But that doesn’t tell the story of how effective she was.

Pinch-runner Hannah Derbyshire scores the Mystics’ first run in the third inning on a Hannah Bryszewski groundout. 

Lardieri yielded just one run on two hits through three innings. She gave up that run while slipping free of a bases loaded jam in the third.

“I think she mixed up her speeds well,” Cahill said. “I don’t think she got flustered in situations like bases loaded. She pitched very well.”

“Today I was throwing mainly my curve, changeup and fastball,” Lardieri said. “My curve and my inside fastball were working. I like to work the inside and outside corners.”

The rain which fell almost continuously as a mist or light rain throughout the day intensified during the fourth inning Saturday evening and made pitching conditions difficult. Lardieri gave up two hits and two walks in the fourth.

“The weather definitely makes it a little harder but I got in there and was doing well, so that was nice,” Lardieri said. “Definitely a lot harder than it normally would be.”

Lardieri represents one-quarter of a deep and talented pitching staff which the Aces didn’t have for most of the summer.

Lardieri, Carly Angstadt (Gov. Mifflin, Shillington, Pa), Paige Brightwell (Delaware Valley High), and Gabby Smith (Eastern Lebanon County HS, Myerstown, Pa) form a solid staff on a roster of players which has remained consistent throughout the summer.

“We’re really starting to come together as a team and it’s great to see they’re playing together,” Cahill said. “We have all the right pieces and people. And we have a pitching staff now, and they all do a nice job.”

The Aces bowed 3-1 to the Lady Dukes in the game immediately preceding the contest with the Mystics. The Aces had a runner aboard and brought the tying run to the plate with no outs in the fourth and final inning, but were unable to manufacture a threat. 

Those fortunes changed against the Mystics, as the Aces pushed two runs across in the bottom of the first inning and never looked back.

Let’s backtrack for a moment. In the top of the first, the Aces set the tone for the game when shortstop Mia Szap (Metuchen) lunged to catch a soft liner behind the pitcher’s circle for the third out. 

In the bottom half, Totaro (Hunterdon Central) and Szap opened with back-to-back singles and both eventually scored on wild pitches for a 2-0 lead.

The Aces padded their lead to 6-0 in the second. Ella Watson had an RBI single and Delanie Swain scored on a passed ball against Mystics starter Olivia Powell. After Becca Taylor came in to relieve Powell, the Aces’ Cora Gilio scored on a wild pitch, and Totaro added a slap RBI single for a 6-0 lead.

The Mystics broke up the shutout in the top of the third when Hannah Bryszewski drove in a run with a bases loaded groundout.   

Lardieri supported her own cause in the bottom of the third with a two-run, opposite field single to right, and Cornish-DiDonato added an RBI sacrifice fly for a 9-1 Aces lead.

The Mystics showed a little life in the heavier rains in the fourth by scoring three runs on two hits and two walks. Liv Crage scored on a wild pitch, and Morgan Carr drove a two-run single through the middle. 

For the Mystics, Powell surrendered six runs on five hits and three walks with one strikeout. Taylor gave up three runs on three hits and two walks with two strikeouts.

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