As the cleanup hitter in the Monroe High School softball team's potent lineup, Cindy Foresta was admittedly over-swinging in her previous plate appearances.
The freshman third baseman, having learned from her mistakes, took a precocious approach in the batter's box that belied her youth with Sunday's Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament final on the line.
Foresta went the other way, driving a belt-high, two-strike fastball on the outside black over the right fielder's head to score Jena Pritzlaf with none away in the bottom of the seventh as the second-seeded Falcons rallied for a dramatic 1-0 victory over top-seeded East Brunswick.
The championship — Monroe's first after two previous GMCT final appearances in the last five years — avenged last week's 3-1 Central Group IV semifinal loss to the Bears and snapped reigning sectional champion East Brunswick's winning streak at 20 games.
Winning pitcher Kelly Widener struck out five, walked none and scattered six hits. She allowed the leadoff batter to reach base in each of the final three innings, but consistently worked out of turbulence, forcing the Bears to strand a total of six runners.
"It's hard when it's pitcher against pitcher," Widener said of trading zeroes with counterpart Beth Ann Hyland. "I just relaxed and knew that my defense would back me up."
Hyland, who took a perfect game into the sixth inning and retired 18 of the first 19 batters, was not threatened until the seventh. She mixed a devastating changeup and riser to the tune of three strikeouts, seven groundball outs and five infield pops.
"Monroe (22-5) is a great offensive team and she kept them off balance for six innings," East Brunswick (25-4) coach Kevin Brady said. "Beth Ann pitched like the best pitcher in the state today. It was good hitters putting good swings on the ball, and that's what happens at this high level. Monroe was just that one hit better today."
Senior center fielder Jena Pritzlaf led off the seventh with a single to right. Sophomore catcher Marisa Monasseri, one of the league's most feared power hitters, followed with a double off the left-center field fence, putting runners on second and third.
Unaccustomed to seeing any Falcons ahead in the count earlier in the game, Monasseri said she finally expected to see a good pitch from Hyland, whose 2-1 fastball caught too much of the plate.
"I'm like, 'She's going to throw me a nice pitch,' " said Monasseri, who thought her double was going to clear the fence for her ninth homer of the season.
"I was going to first and I'm like, 'Oh, my God! It's out.' And then it dropped and Cindy got the big hit."
Hyland, who recorded a first-pitch strike to 15 batters, including the first six of the game, got ahead 0-2 on Foresta, who grounded out sharply to the right side of the infield in her two previous at-bats.
"The whole game I was trying to over swing," Foresta said. "At the end I hit it in the right spot."
Foresta, who entered the contest batting .395, lofted a fly ball over the outstretched glove of right fielder Morgan Lee for the winning hit. Even if Lee made a catch, the ball was deep enough for a sacrifice fly.
Monroe coach Keith Hudak had complete faith in Foresta, one of two freshmen (shortstop Casey Schieda bats fifth) in the heart of Monroe's order.
"If you had to dream it you would want that scenario coming up," Hudak said of Monroe's seventh-inning rally, referring to his rookies batting behind All-Greater Middlesex Conference selections Pritzlaf and Monasseri.
"They came through like All-County kids. Then you throw up our freshman, who has had a tremendous year for us, and she hit it good."
Hyland, who has whiffed 249 batters in 194 innings and boasts a 0.62 ERA, was well below her 8.6 strikeouts-per-game average, but nonetheless effective.
She fanned eight in last week's NJSIAA Tournament game against Monroe, which the Bears won on Lee's two-out, two run double in the sixth.
"I knew this was going to be a tough game because we played them in the states and they did really well against us," said Hyland, who leads the Bears into Tuesday's 4 p.m. state semifinal against Eastern at New Egypt.
"That heart of their lineup, they are all great. I had to watch out for pretty much all of them. I had confidence in my defense. They just got solid hits and there's nothing I could do about that.
"They just came up big in the last inning."