MONTCLAIR—The Ridgewood softball team's hopes for a trip to its third straight sectional final were dashed when Montclair scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh en route to a 6-5 NJSIAA North 1, Group 4 State semifinal win Tuesday at Fortunato Field.
The third-seeded Maroons (24-6) held leads of 4-0 and 5-3, but the second-seeded Mounties used a three-run fifth inning before their two-out, game-winning rally ended Ridgewood's season in heartbreaking fashion.
"It's a shame when it ends like that, but we had a great season and I'll tell my kids exactly that and that they should be proud of themselves," Maroon head coach Patti Auger said. "This is a team that had eight starters graduate last season, and we were still one inning away from a sectional final. For me, that's an incredible accomplishment."
Auger credited her lone senior starter, center fielder and captain Alex Scibetta, for guiding the Maroons farther than most predicted in March.
"Alex was a phenomenal captain for us and a major reason this team went as far as it did this season—despite being so young," Auger said. "We had great chemistry, a winning chemistry, and Alex was able to instill that in the girls. It was her leadership and the way she carries herself."
Scibetta and the Maroons jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first. Christine Reynolds plated Ridgewood's first run when she singled home Christina Bicks, who had walked to lead off the game and promptly stole second. Scibetta's single put runners at first and second with no outs before Claire Dennis' sacrifice moved the runners to second and third.
After a strikeout, Courtney Pedalino's grounder was thrown high to first by the Montclair shortstop, allowing Reynolds and Scibetta to cross home for a three-run bulge. Montclair pitcher Claire Fitzgerald snagged Jeannie Kircher's comebacker to end the inning, but the early damage was done.
In the circle, Ridgewood righty Nicole Hroncich was cruising. She allowed no hits and one walk during the first four frames.
"Nicole was doing great, and she had us exactly where we wanted to be in that situation," Auger said. "Overall, she pitched a great game."
The Maroons added a run in the fourth on Kat Bonelli's two-out single.
In the fifth, the locals threatened, leading off the inning with a bunt single. During the ensuing at bat, Fitzgerald threw to first for an out, after which first baseman Catherine Cantine caught a Ridgewood runner straying off second for an unconventional double play. Dennis' blast to left was then snagged on a diving play by Chelsea Hepburn, saving a likely homer as Montclair's left field does not have a fence.
The Mounties carried the momentum of Hepburn's catch to the plate in their half of the inning to pull to within 4-3 on an RBI single and a two-run triple.
The Maroons, on an RBI groundout from Kircher, stretched the lead to 5-3 in the sixth, and were three outs from advancing after Hroncich retired Montclair in order during the bottom of the inning.
With one out and two runners on in the seventh, Hepburn again robbed Ridgewood of at least two runs when she stretched to make another highlight-reel catch on a shot from Scibetta.
"This is a game where sometimes the breaks go your way, and sometimes they don't," Auger said. "Their left fielder made two unbelievable catches that kept them in the game and ultimately won it for them."
In the seventh, Montclair tied the game on a two-run single from Sara Haefeli, who moved to third when the throw on Rachel Roder's bunt single hit her near first base. After Hroncich buckled down for a strikeout for the second out, Hepburn singled up the middle to plate Haefeli and end Ridgewood's year.
"This is going to hurt for a while, but hopefully we can learn from it," Auger said. "The future is very bright for us."