By Will Harrigan
The NJ Pride has turned itself into one of New Jersey’s most successful travel softball programs over the years.
Stellar pitching, fundamentally sound defense, and timely hitting, hallmarks of Pride softball, were put on full display by their 14U squad at Diamond Nation this weekend.
Playing seven games in two days at the Jennie Finch Spring Invitational, the impressive NJ Pride 14K squad – one of the organization’s two 14U clubs – ran the gauntlet undefeated to win the 28-team event. They capped it off by taking a 4-2 decision over the Empire State Huskies ‘07 14Us in the championship game on Sunday night.
Not only did the Pride run through the tournament unblemished, but they outscored their opponents by a combined 67-7 margin. Along the way they recorded five shutouts including each of the three elimination games played prior to the final.
“Our girls played one heck of a tournament. It takes a lot of effort to come out and win seven games in a row, and there were some very good teams here from all over,” said Pride 14K assistant coach Rob Szurko.
The big breakthrough came in the sixth, when the Pride put up a three-spot to bust the game open with a one-out rally.
It started with Lily Sandholm drawing a walk to get aboard, which Brooke Collins immediately chased with a single. A little small ball then worked to perfection, as a bunt single by Katie Kmiotek led to a throwing error by the Huskies, scoring Sandholm and putting the Pride ahead 2-1.
With two runners in scoring position, a routine grounder by Avery Neuer not only drove in Collins, but an alert Kmiotek rounded third base and scored from second. The play resulted in a rarely recorded two-RBI groundout for Neuer, and the Pride had a 4-1 edge.
“It was definitely good to get three across there, but no lead is safe when you go up against a program like the Huskies,” Szurko said.
A two-out RBI single off the bat of Jessica Tudor drew the Huskies to within 4-2 in the sixth, but Pride pitcher Ava Kelshaw induced a grounder to end the game and seal the tournament title.
Early on, and right after Kelshaw pitched a scoreless top of the first, the Pride immediately took the lead. Two-hitter Sofia Cruz reached base on an infield single, and made it all the way to third by the time the play was over, due to a wayward Huskies throw that went out of play.
Anna Chominsky would promptly get the job done by grounding out to bring home Cruz and open a 1-0 lead for the winners.
The Huskies – who went 6-1 overall and outscored their opponents 45-9 – leveled things up on a close play in the third.
Sofia Gaughran and Alana Beatty, the ninth and 10th hitters in the Huskies lineup, came through with singles to start off the rally. Following a sacrifice bunt and a line out, Huskies first baseman Lisa Mallozzi hit a grounder to short. The throw was dropped by the Pride first baseman and quickly picked up, but the umpire ruled Mallozzi was safe by a hair, allowing Gaughran to score and level things at 1-1.
Both Kelshaw and Huskies pitcher Sydney Miller were dealing all night, with Kelshaw tossing a four-hitter and Miller striking out six consecutive Pride batters at one point.
“I only pitched half a game before this one, so I was excited to pitch (this game.) My fastball and screwball were both working,” Kelshaw said.