John F. Kennedy’s senior ace Crystal Carlucci provided all the run support she would need in the first inning of Saturday’s Greater Middlesex Conference tournament game against Wardlaw-Hartridge.
Carlucci led off the game with a home run and then allowed just three hits over the next seven innings, pitching a shutout and leading the ninth-seeded Mustangs (15-8) to a 15-0 victory over the eighth-seeded Rams (17-3).
After working a full count against Wardlaw-Hartridge junior starter Ali Yamakaitis, Carlucci launched a breaking ball over the left field fence to give her team the early lead.
“It honestly gave us a crutch to lean back on,” she said of the home run. “We knew we had a lead in the beginning, so that was really big. But our bats really came along throughout the game.”
Kennedy built on Carlucci’s solo shot with two runs in the second inning. The Mustangs then added five runs in the fourth inning to build an 8-0 lead.
Several of those runs came courtesy of third baseman Vanessa Villahermosa, who had an RBI single in the second and drove in two more with another single in the fourth. Villahermosa finished 3-for-5 with a double, two runs and six RBIs.
“(Villahermosa has) just been really solid defensively and offensively this year,” Kennedy coach Maureen Gallagher said. “(She) really came to life offensively and is a great mainstay, as Crystal’s not really getting many pitches to hit at the leadoff spot.”
Kennedy later added one run in the sixth and put up six runs in the seventh inning.
On the mound, the Saint Peter’s-bound Carlucci kept Wardlaw-Hartridge’s bats at bay, striking out 11. The Rams got their first hit off Carlucci in the fourth inning, when shortstop Taylor Gerhart reached on a single.
“(I was hitting my pitches) on the outside corner,” Carlucci said. “(The umpire) wasn’t really calling much on the inside, so I had to stick with the outside.”
With the tournament win, Kennedy continued its recent hot streak. The Mustangs have won their last six games and nine of their last 11.
“The coaching staff believed in their talent right from the beginning,” Gallagher said of her team. “We just had to make them believe it. Our mantra is that not only can we play with anybody, but now we can beat anybody because we really have the confidence at the plate, and that’s been the difference.”
Both teams will now prepare for state tournament games this week. Wardlaw-Hartridge, the fourth seed in the Non-Public South B bracket, will face No. 13 seed Marist on Thursday. Kennedy, the third seed in the North 2 Group III bracket, will play No. 14 seed Morristown on Tuesday.
Kennedy will also face top-seeded East Brunswick in the quarterfinals of the Greater Middlesex Conference tournament on Wednesday.
“We have a state game Tuesday and then the quarterfinals game Wednesday, so every game is big from now on,” Gallagher said. “We’re ready, we’re prepared…we want to see how long this lasts.”