Shannon McMahon rarely walks any batters.
The South Plainfield senior had walked just 10 batters in 168 innings this season entering the Tigers game on Monday against ninth-seeded J.F. Kennedy in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament at Coach Panzarella Field.
McMahon was perplexed after walking counterpart Crystal Carlucci to lead off the game, as Carlucci wound up scoring from second on Brittany Paulikas’ two-out RBI single and South Plainfield trailed by a run deep into the game.
The fifth-seeded Tigers struck for three unearned runs on two errors in the bottom of the fifth inning to take the lead, and after a pair of errors in the bottom of the sixth, Caroline Ratti’s three-run triple with two outs led to three more unearned runs, as South Plainfield came away with a 6-1 victory and will face sixth-seeded Sayreville in the GMCT final on Wednesday at 5 p.m. on its home field.
“I think the nerves just got all over me and after that I felt like I had to do it, I can’t walk anyone else,” McMahon said. “I can’t believe I did it, to be honest, because usually I don’t walk people, but it happens, so I had to get out of it.”
McMahon allowed a one-out single and two-out bunt single in the second inning, but from that point only allowed two base runners, both on errors.
“(McMahon’s) a competitor,” South Plainfield coach Don Panzarella said. “She’s not going till she wins something here and she’s been the rock of this team for three years.”
McMahon allowed an earned run on three hits, struck out three and walked one.
South Plainfield (19-8) trailed 1-0 until the bottom of the fifth, when it finally took the lead.
Carlucci hit a batter with one out and McMahon followed with a sacrifice bunt, as Carlucci went for the lead runner but the shortstop came off the bag.
After an infield fly for the second out, Caroline Ratti hit a hard ball in the hole at short that Kennedy’s (18-9) shortstop backhanded ranging to her right, but her throw to third sailed to the left, in front of the fence of the third base dugout.
As pinch runner Sarah Cargill sprinted toward home, Carlucci dashed to get the ball and fired home, but Cargill was ruled safe as she got under the tag as the game was tied.
After a walk to load the bases, an error on an exchange from the shortstop to second baseman allowed two more runs to score and South Plainfield led 3-1 after five innings.
“You’ve got to take advantage of everybody’s mistakes,” Panzarella said. “Everybody always seems to take advantage of (our mistakes), but we never seem to take advantage of other teams mistakes. Today we were able to.”
In the home sixth, after an infield single, error, and walk helped load the bases, Ratti’s clutch three-run triple provided the Tigers with some insurance. Ratti went 2-for-4.
“(Ratti’s) had a high average all year, but hasn’t had that big hit,” Panzarella said. “Today she had that big hit, and that’s what I’ve been waiting for, because she’s a good hitter.”
South Plainfield has fallen in its last four trips to the GMCT finals, with its last county title coming in 1998.
Sayreville, meanwhile, has never won a GMC title though it won Middlesex County titles in 1976 and 1978.
“Everybody always says you want to win a state or a county (title),” Panzarella said. “To me, OK state sounds bigger, but this county’s awesome. We play Group IV schools, (Non-Public) schools. If you win this, you deserve something.”
Red Bank Catholic 10, Pingry 3: Jaime Ferns and Alyssa Baum drove in runs, as the seventh-seeded Pingry School softball team posted a two-run first inning, but 10th-seeded Red Bank Catholic tied it in the second and pulled away late to eliminate the Big Blue (19-3) in the opening round of the NJSIAA Non-Public A South Tournament. Becca Hoyt, Hayley Advokat and Katie Marino scored runs for Pingry.