BY J.C. BAUMULLER SPORTS EDITOR Northern Valley Suburbanite


Knights senior pitcher Mackenzie Holowach ‘battled like crazy,’ according to New Milford coach Mike Mayer. ‘She’s the reason we’re still playing,’ he added. KEVIN J. RILEY/PHOTO Knights senior pitcher Mackenzie Holowach ‘battled like crazy,’ according to New Milford coach Mike Mayer. ‘She’s the reason we’re still playing,’ he added. NEW MILFORD – Junior Carly Lesko crushed a double to right-center in the eighth inning and junior Erin Bigger scored all the way from first as New Milford beat Cedar Grove, 4-3, May 27. “I was hoping it was going to get over the fence,” said New Milford coach Mike Mayer. “Then I saw that it got to the fence and I saw the two outfielders collide. I thought it had a chance to get through and it did. I knew I was sending Erin. She’s got so much speed. Once I saw Erin coming around I knew we’d won.” “I was looking for a base hit,” said Lesko. “I didn’t know it was deep when I hit it. I was just, ‘Get on base so there are two people on.’ I wasn’t looking for a home run. I was just looking for a base hit. I got lucky I guess.” Bigger had led off the bottom of the eighth with a solid single to center. She watched from first base as Lesko’s blast headed toward the fence. “Once I saw it hit off Carly’s bat,” Bigger said, “I knew something was going to happen because Carly has always been there to get us out of things. I ran all the way to second and if I was going to have to book it back I would have done that as fast as I can.” Instead Bigger watched as the ball got past the Cedar Grove outfielders and she headed toward third base where Mayer was waving her around. “I knew I had to get around there as fast as I can,” said Bigger. “He (Mayer) was jumping like crazy. I saw him and I thought he was going to break an ankle because he was jumping so high. He was screaming, ‘Go!,’ and waving his arms. “It was the best feeling in the world. It was awesome. To have everyone come together was an exciting moment.” Knights take early lead The Knights grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Senior Angela Coughlin beat out a slow roller up the third base line, went to second on a bunt by Bigger and scored when Lesko grounded out to third. On the play the third baseman looked Coughlin back before firing to first to nail Lesko. Coughlin took off for third and the throw from the first baseman ended up in dead ball territory, allowing Coughlin to score. Junior Danielle Laube and senior pitcher Mackenzie Holowach stroked back-to-back singles and Jamie Ashman was safe on an error as the inning continued. But Panthers pitcher Gabrielle Castelli retired the next batter on a popup to the infield to get out of the jam. New Milford added two more runs in the third. Lesko walked and made it to third on Laube’s double over the centerfielder’s head. “I’m so confident in her,” Lesko said of Laube. “If they intentionally walk me, I think, ‘Why are you doing that? She’s a great hitter.’ I have a lot of respect for her.” With one out Ashman reached on a fielder’s choice to load the bases. Castelli induced a fly ball to short left for the second out. The Panthers thought they were out of the inning when the next batter, sophomore Julie Venechanos, popped out to first. But Venechanos was interfered with by the catcher and was awarded first base, which forced in Lesko from third. Junior Meredith Farley followed with an infield single to score Laube to give the Knights another run. The Knights might have been able to score more runs on Farley’s hit, but Cedar Grove shortstop Daniela Marinaro made a diving stop to keep the ball in the infield. Castelli got the next out to end the inning. New Milford had a 3-0 lead but for the second time in three innings they left the bases loaded. “We knew three wasn’t going to be enough,” Mayer said. “We knew we had to score some runs. We left a lot of opportunities out there and that’s why we played eight [innings]. But we got the clutch run when we needed it.” Panthers tie game Designated player Marissa Campanello and Kailey Weinstein opened the Cedar Grove fifth inning with singles to put two runners on with no outs. Jennifer Tullo smacked a line drive to left that went for a triple and two RBIs. Tullo stayed put at third when Marinaro ripped a line drive down the third base line that Bigger dove for and caught in foul territory for the first out of the inning. Tullo scored on an infield error one batter later, however, to tie the game 3-3. Candace Mitola followed with a single to center and made it to second on the throw to third. As a result the Panthers had runners on second and third with one out. “When they had runners on we knew we would get them out,” Lesko said. “We knew we would get up to bat and score. During the whole game I knew we were going to win the game. We wanted it so bad.” Holowach buckled down after that. She retired the final two batters of the fifth, and then struck out the next four batters, including a 1-2-3 sixth inning. She yielded a two-out single to Brooke Adams in the seventh but a ground ball to Lesko at short ended the inning. “I came back [from a bit of struggling],” said Holowach. “Our coach really picks us up. It’s just wanting it. I rely on my teammates so much behind me but I feel like I owe it to them to get back, especially this game because it wasn’t my best. So I owed it to them. It was a great feeling coming back for those four strikeouts.” “She battled like crazy today,” Mayer said. “She’s a senior and when we needed her the most today in the circle she just got it done. She’s been doing it for three years and we needed her bad today in big spots when there were runners on. She just kept coming at people and got us out of jams. She’s the reason we’re still playing.” Farley stroked a two-out triple in the home half of the seventh but Castelli struck out the next batter and the teams headed to extra innings. Flashing the leather With one out in the top of the eighth Autumn Spinella sent a bounding ball through the infield and into left field that Ashman dove for and made a backhanded stop to keep Spinella at first base with a single. For Ashman it was just another great defensive play. In the first inning she made a nice running catch of a fly ball hit by Mitola and in the third inning she sprinted back, leaped and speared a liner off the bat of Tullo. Holowach got an infield popup for the second out but Campanello reached on an infield error to put the potential go-ahead run at second. A short fly ball to Lesko ended the threat and set the stage for the Knights winning rally. “I’m so excited for these girls,” said Mayer. “I’ve been in the program 12 years, five as head coach and we’ve never been to the semifinals before. This was on our goal list for a bunch of seasons and we finally did it. They did what they had to do to win today and I’m so proud of them. “They never stopped believing today and even when they (Cedar Grove) tied the game they just knew someone was going to make something happen. We just had to wait an extra inning to do it.” “Going into this game we felt it – we wanted it from the start,” Holowach said. “We wanted this game more than any other game this season. We battled right until the end. There have been so many games where we’ve put our heads down and you could see it in our body language – we just gave up. “There was a game against Westwood where we came back but that was for only one inning. In this game it was every inning we came back. This is the one game that not one of us put their head down for errors. It’s incredible; I’m so proud of them for that.”