SADDLE BROOK — The ball settled into shortstop Lorena Alvarez’s glove, she squeezed it, and made a short, deliriously happy run to the pitching circle with her teammates. In an instant, three years of frustration melted away for the Saddle Brook softball team. Finally, it was time to celebrate.
Saddle Brook beat New Milford, 5-0, on Friday, winning the North 1, Group 1 sectional title — and capturing its first sectional title since 2009 and sixth overall.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Natalie Alvarez, a senior outfielder. “Literally, the best feeling in the world. Everything you’ve worked for it’s right there in that moment. That last pitch, whoa, I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders I was so happy.”
It was a weight that grew heavier each of the last three seasons for Saddle Brook’s three seniors — Natalie Alvarez, Gina Gravina and Alexia Russo. Those three are the only players in Saddle Brook softball history to make it to four sectional finals. But they came into Friday’s game having lost all three of their previous sectional finals in excruciating and dramatic fashion.
However, Saddle Brook’s seniors insisted those failures didn’t create doubt. No, it only steeled them for this opportunity, and made the celebration under the sun even more satisfying.
“It was just so awesome,” Russo said. “We’ve been so close. So close. And we finally finished it. We got what we wanted.”
“No one would understand it unless they were in that position,” Gravina said. “It was amazing.”
At the center of the celebration, amid the scattered gloves, and the smiling players, was coach Darren White. He was jumping up and down with his players.
Clearly, a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, too.
“I’m so happy for [the seniors], that had the chance to experience that,” White said, his voice full of emotion. “I’ve been here 19 years and every group of seniors I’ve ever had has won at least one sectional final.”
The seniors didn’t carry the Falcons alone, however. This was a total team effort. Junior Lorena Alvarez had an RBI in the first inning. Sophomore Ashley Russo and junior Angela Ferrante each had an RBI in the critical second inning, when Saddle Brook scored three runs to take a 4-0 lead.
From there, junior pitcher Danielle Archibold did the rest. She threw a two-hitter and struck out six.
It was the first time all season this talented New Milford team had been shut out. The Knights were searching for their first sectional title in program history.
“I’m more proud of these girls than anything,” New Milford coach Mike Mayer said.For Saddle Brook, the work is not done. The Falcons now turn their gaze toward Toms River. They’ll face Secaucus on Tuesday in the Group 1 semifinals for a trip down the shore.