For the second straight year, the North Hunterdon softball team made it all the way to the championship game of the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex tournament.
Last spring, they came up empty at the plate and got shut out by eventual champion High Point, 1-0. It was more of the same on Saturday night at Diamond Nation, as the Lady Lions managed just five hits against Pope John in a 2-0 loss.
As North Hunterdon head coach Jeff Steele noted, it’s not as if his team simply laid an egg in the run production department. A lot of the hard-hit balls off the Lions bats just seemed destined to wind up in a fielder’s glove.
“I’m very proud of the way the kids played,” Steele said. “The bottom line was he hit it right at people and didn’t get any breaks. I thought that we might have even hit the ball a little harder than (Pope John) did, but they hit it to where people weren’t and we didn’t. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be tonight.”
North Hunterdon starting pitcher Mason Spichiger turned in yet another brilliant performance, striking out four, and she had a perfect game through six innings.
Pope John finally got their first base runner with one out in the seventh on a bunt hit by Alyssa Bolger.
After Kaylee Powers followed with an infield single of her own, Toni Santonastasso singled to load the bases. That is when Steele decided to take a trip to the mound to give a pep talk to his girls.
“You want to go out and try to calm them down a little bit, they had a few runners on base,” he said. “We did have an out, and we wanted to bring the infield in about halfway. I said ‘Alright, it’s still nothing-nothing. So let’s get this out, get another one, and then we’ll go in and hit.’ ”
The Lady Lions would get two more outs, but not before Pope John’s Christina Marinaro broke a scoreless tie with a two-run base hit up the middle. Spichiger closed out the inning strong, getting a groundout and a strikeout to limit the damage, but the single proved to be the only noteworthy offense on the night.
Last licks for North Hunterdon resulted in more bad fortune, as Kristen Cheesman lined into a double play after a leadoff single by Spichiger. North had three players reach safely in the final frame — two hits and a hit-by-pitch — but it still was not enough to get on the scoreboard.
“That’s what I was talking about before, you can’t catch a break,” Steele said about the final sequence. “Cheesman hit that ball square, right on the nose, can’t hit it any harder, and the kid comes up with a catch. You can’t fault the runner for that either, because it’s bang-bang. That’s another break that they got, and we didn’t. But you know what, the teams that get the breaks in these big games, they’re the teams that win.”
Steele said that while it’s devastating to lose in the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex tournament final two years in a row, he is very proud of the way his kids played.
“We played a great game at a high level and we just didn’t get a couple of breaks and we came up a little short,” he said.
“Mason threw phenomenal, and she threw good enough to win. It wasn’t pitching, it wasn’t defense. We didn’t score.”