Senior shortstop and captain Sydney Canessa knows all about staying composed under pressure, and when her team is in need of a spark late in tight games she usually delivers.
She did so again on Wednesday, getting hold of an outside pitch and stroking it over the fence in right-center field during the bottom of the sixth inning of a tie game, setting off a trio of solo blasts that led to an 8-5 victory over Howell in the Monmouth County Tournament Red Division semifinals.
“We knew Howell would come out strong, and we know we have a target on our backs and that everybody wants to beat us,” said Canessa, who hit a pair of solo homers and a double while going 4-for-4. “We had a tough loss (Tuesday) and the only way to forget that is to get back to basics and do the little things right. On that homer, I was just trying to drive the ball to the middle of the field and get the ball in play. Instead, it changed the momentum in our favor.”
After Canessa drilled her two-out homer, junior catcher Dani Petrone made it 7-5 when she crushed a ball to left-center and was followed by senior second baseman Katie Kilgallen, who drilled another solo bomb to left.
“We were really focused at the plate, knowing our team needed us to come through,” Petrone said. “We’re at the top of the order so we can change the momentum of games when it’s needed, and that’s what we have to do. That’s our job, to hit the ball hard and try to get runs for us.”
The Rebels (14-6) came out firing away, as Annemarie Bartow, who was 2-for-3, led off the game with a homer to left, giving her team the initial lead. But the Crimson Knights (19-2) answered back when Canessa singled to lead off and Petrone belted a two-run shot over the left-field fence to make it 2-1.
However, Howell rebounded nicely, as Vivian Montgomery doubled to left-center, went to third on an infield single off the bat of Paige Eckert and ended up on third when Taylor Mennie managed to beat out a dribbler to the right of pitcher Jackie Howarth to load the bases. Lauren Lord then grounded out to score Montgomery to make it 2-2, before Bartow walked to reload the bases and Bridget Coulahan hit into a fielder’s choice to bring in Eckert with the third run.
The Crimson Knights were held scoreless in the second, but in the third Canessa started things off with a homer to straightaway center. Then with two outs, Chickie Clayton singled to left-center and scored two batters later on a single to right by Amanda Pringle, who ended up 2-for-3, to make it 4-3.
In the fourth, Wall received a big scare when Eckert led off with a screaming line drive that deflected off third baseman Casey DeSarno’s glove and hit her in the face, sending the freshman to the hospital. Howell then added two runs to take a 5-4 lead when Mennie dropped a bunt single down the third-base line and both Eckert and Mennie scored when Bartow singled in one run and Kelly Hardiman brought in another with a groundout.
But with two out in the bottom of the fourth, Canessa swatted a double down the left-field line and scored on Petrone’s single to left to tie the contest heading into the later innings. Petrone finished 3-for-4.
In the fifth, the Rebels put runners on first and second with one out, but Canessa came up with a fine play at short when she snatched a ground ball to her right and reached out to tag Montgomery, who nearly snuck by en route to third. Howarth then struck out Lord to end the threat, and Howell didn’t threaten again.
The second-seeded Crimson Knights will square off against top-seeded St. John Vianney and pitcher Kate Beriont in the MCT final on Saturday at 3 p.m. in Wall.
“We have to be confident and do the little things right if we want to come out on top,” Petrone said. “We scored six runs against them last year, so we just have to be focused at the plate.”
Canessa knows beating the Lancers is not an easy task.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” she said. “We just have to trust each other and play our hearts out.”