NEW MILFORD – The Knights’ bats came alive May 30 as they pounded their way into the North 1, Group 1 final with a 12-5 win over Sussex County Tech.
“They did a good job,” said Mustangs coach Ed Paiva. “They hit the ball hard. That’s what I just said to coach (New Milford coach Mike Mayer). They broke out the sticks on us.”
“When we’re in it to win everyone’s hitting,” said Knights junior shortstop Carly Lesko. “When we go into games I say to them, ‘Let’s explode.’ Everyone takes it up there aggressive and we hit.”
The first New Milford explosion took place right after Sussex Tech had grabbed a 3-1 lead in the top of the third.
The Mustangs took advantage of two infield errors to put runners on second and third with one out. Second baseman Kim Damelio singled home one run and freshman third baseman Leah Struble plated two more with a base hit to left. The inning ended on a bunt attempt that was popped up to Knights pitcher Mackenzie Holowach, who turned and fired to Lesko at third base to double off the runner.
“The third baseman was back a little and all I wanted was a little bunt,” Paiva said. “A popup turns into a double play. But that’s execution. They did a good job to make that a double play.”
‘No big deal’
Buoyed by the great defensive play the Knights charged off the field trailing 3-1.
“As soon as we came in the dugout we said it’s 2-0,” said Lesko. “No big deal. We knew we could come back. It was only the third inning.”
Junior third baseman Erin Bigger and Lesko drew walks to start the inning and junior designated player Danielle Laube was safe on an error to load the bases with nobody out.
Mustangs pitcher Megan Jannuzzi came back to strike out the next batter, but junior left fielder Jamie Ashman punched a single to center to knock in two runs and tie the game 3-3.
“I knew my team needed me because we really needed those runs,” said Ashman. “I tried to focus as best I could at the plate. This is why we practice so hard and work on our hitting so much. I think that is what our team is really strong at. I was just up there and ready.”
Sophomore second baseman Alexandra Sauer followed with a double to right-center to score Ashman with the go-ahead run.
“She has such a nice bat,” Lesko said of Sauer. “She’s been struggling a little bit but when she hits it it’s such a nice stroke.”
Paiva swapped Jannuzzi with right fielder Katie Jakubowski in the circle and Jakubowski induced a comebacker to end the inning.
Backed up by a 4-3 lead Holowach retired the Mustangs 1-2-3 on two comebackers and a popup to which she gloved to the right of the pitching rubber.
“She battles,” said Mayer. “She was disappointed when she fell behind but she just kept coming at people. She just wants it and when you want it you do whatever you can to get it done.”
Pouring it on
New Milford tacked on three more runs in the fourth inning.
With one out senior Angela Coughlin and Bigger beat out bunts and Lesko scored them both with a double to left. Then Lesko scored on a single to left by Laube.
Lesko finished with a walk, three hits and four RBIs.
“She’s awesome,” Laube said of Lesko. “She really pumps me up. I really like to have a hitter before me who can hit the ball. In my mind it’s, ‘Now it’s your time to hit. You can do this.'”
Laube did it and the Knights led 7-3.
Jakubowski led off the fifth with an infield single, moved to second on a fielder’s choice and scored on an infield error to cut the lead to 7-4.
But the Knights were relentless and they put the game out of reach with a five-run fifth inning.
Sophomore first baseman Julie Venechanos smacked a single to center with one out. She moved to second on a wild pitch and to third on an infield out.
Coughlin followed with an infield grounder but a bad throw to first allowed Venechanos to score and opened the floodgates for the Knights.
“We didn’t help ourselves,” said Paiva. “The inning when they scored five we could have gotten out with no damage but we had that error. But that’s what happens. You force people to put the ball in play and you make plays. They did and we didn’t.”
Bigger ripped a triple to left to score Coughlin and a base hit by Lesko plated Bigger. Laube knocked in Lesko with a double to center and Laube came around to score on a single by Holowach.
“I knew we were going to come back,” said Laube. “We have a great hitting team. I have faith in every single one of these girls. When they are at bat I know they’re going to get a hit.”
“I think we all have each other’s back,” said Ashman. “As long as we are boosting each other up and keeping each other’s confidence up we all hit the ball well and it works great for us. If one person gets down the next person is going to get it. It’s all the time like that. We all have confidence in each other.”
“I could imagine it (being in the final),” Lesko said, “but I couldn’t quite see it because I’ve never gone this far in a sport in high school yet. Now I’m living it and it’s incredible. There’s no better feeling. I can’t explain it.”
“We feel as if we can beat anybody right now and it’s a good feeling to have,” said Mayer. “I think the key was not getting down when we were behind 3-1. We really believe we have an excellent hitting team.
“It was early in the game and we were going to come right back. It just takes one hit to get it started. We all hit. We were just not going to lose today.”