Last May, the Mendham High School softball team made a Cinderella-style run to the North 2 Group II sectional final against rival West Morris.
The Minutemen won three straight road games to advance from 15th seed to sectional finalist and then came within three outs of completing the deal. In the end it wasn’t to be, as Mendham fell to rival West Morris in 5-4 in 10 innings.
Now 10 months later, the Mendham players still can’t stop thinking about the game. Instead of dwelling on it in a negative way they are using it as an inspiration to take the next level this season.
“I still think about it almost every day,” junior pitcher Irene Margiotta said. “But I use it now as fuel and motivation for this season. Our motto this year is get back to the ‘ship, so it still hurts and still stings but we use it as motivation now instead of focusing on our loss.”
The biggest thing the Minutemen learned from the run is the importance of team chemistry.
“Our team just really clicked,” senior catcher Dana Rafferty said. “We all get along so well and love to be on the field together and even with the hard work we enjoy being out there. And with that run we were able to see our potential, being the 15th seed and making that run showed us what we are capable of.”
Luckily for Mendham that chemistry is fully intact this season as they lost just three players from last season’s team and replaced them with more familiar faces.
“A few of us have been playing together before this and that has carried into the high school season,” junior shortstop Nikkey Skuraton said. “And the new freshman and sophomores that are coming up and playing with us were always a part of our team too, so our chemistry is great.”
The other catalyst for the run was Margiotta’s development into a dominant force in the circle.
During the three-game winning streak to reach the sectional final, Margiotta gave up just a single unearned run while striking out 21 batters over a 23-inning stretch.
The dominance was something that Mendham head coach Lori Welles had always seen in Margiotta and something she is confident will be there throughout this season.
“I always had confidence in Irene; which is why she was on up on varsity freshman year,” Welles said. “I think it was a matter of time before she was that dominant pitcher and last year during the states she stepped up to that level. When your pitcher steps to that level the team tends to be more confident and does as well.”
According to Margiotta, the difference came in her mental approach which she finally perfected as the season wound to a close and will look to replicate this season.
“I really worked on my mental game and every day at practice I would work on not just my pitching mechanics but also keeping my mental game strong,” she said. “For games like the one against the second seed that was important because things can get crazy.”
Now Mendham enters the season just as confident and driven by defeat in a game no one expected them to reach.
And just in case anyone forgets, the message is loud and clear during every practice.
“We are really excited,” Margiotta said. “Almost every day at some point during practice we will scream out ‘we are going to the ‘ship’, just like last we did year. We want to show the young girls we are upbeat, we are positive and we are ready to go.”