It didn't matter, of course, where Dara, a catcher, was in the lineup. All she wanted was a hit.
Dara's two-out single down the left-field line in the bottom of the sixth inning drove in the decisive run, sending Pequannock past Par-Troy East, 3-2, on Monday, July 9 at Gallo Field.
"I was just trying to make contact," Dara said. "I wanted to get the run in and win the game. This game was nerve-wracking. It was do-or-die when I was up. If I didn't hit the ball, we'd have to go to extra innings. It's the greatest feeling to know that I did it."
Dara, who hit a hard line drive to shortstop in her only other at-bat, was the fifth Pequannock player to take her turn at the plate in the lower half of the sixth. The first pitch she hit was a foul pop and Par-Troy East fielders raced to the ball but did not make a catch. She then took a ball and a strike before fouling back two pitches. On the 1-2 count, Dara got her bat on an inside pitch and sent it down the line as her teammates and the fans erupted in cheers.
The tension-breaking hit earned Pequannock a return trip to the state tournament, which begins Friday, July 13, in Wallington. Pequannock will face Rutherford at 6 p.m. The tournament concludes on July 17.
"Par-Troy East is a great, great team," said Carr, the recipient of a Silly String "dousing" shortly after the game. "They were tough. We hoped to throw them off a little by changing our lineup. We scattered our good hitters throughout. Hannah (Brizek) pitched well. This was not easy."
Brizek opened Pequannock's sixth inning with a single up the middle and went to second on a passed ball. She moved to third on a groundout. Lexi Tobak bunted. The ball was fielded cleanly but no play was made. Tobak was aggressive, racing to second. The stage was set for Dara and she came through.
Crossing the plate certainly was a relief for Brizek, who struck out six and scattered five hits. She knew PTE could hit as evidenced by the 18 runs it scored in the first two games.
"I had to concentrate and focus. I couldn't get distracted," said Brizek, whose best pitch was her curveball. "I was trying to throw my hardest. I had to throw strikes. My dad told me to throw as hard as I can as long as I can."
Pequannock had an opportunity to end the scoreless deadlock in the fifth. Emma Carr led off the inning by blasting a triple to right-center field off a 2-0 pitch. PTE pitcher Caitlin Brennan bore down, however, and got a strikeout, popup and a groundout.
"I really figured that would be it but we didn't get the run in," the elder Carr said.
Pequannock gained a 2-0 lead in the first inning on RBIs by Skyler Troast and Tobak. PTE made it 2-1 on Alivia Mercuro's RBI groundout in the second inning and pulled even, 2-2, in the fourth when Alyssa Feola hit a hard shot off Brizek's glove to knock in a run.
Tobak was excellent in center field, making two running catches. Tobak robbed Feola of a probable extra base hit in the second inning by making a grab of a ball hit to right-center field. With one out in the fifth inning, Tobak deprived Luisa Barone of a hit by making a backhanded running catch in left-center field.
PTE made its manager, Rich Leitner, proud with its effort, especially on offense.
"A lot of these girls have been playing together for quite some time, whether on Par-Troy East or travel teams," Leitner said. "We did a lot of work with hitting in the offseason. We outhit most teams we played."
First baseman Emily Carlos, who has batted cleanup for three seasons, went 3 for 3, including a double and triple, in the third game. Carlos thrived in the series opener, too, going 4 for 4 off Brizek.
"Emily is a tremendous kid," Leitner said. "She enjoys playing and works hard."
The setback was difficult, no doubt, for Brennan. She turned in a strong outing, registering six strikeouts.
For Pequannock, the victory was "wonderful," said Dara.
"We wanted to move on," Dara said. "We didn't want to go home."
Brizek considered the series "a great experience." She relished coming out on top and was pleased to have her older sister, Christina, a member of the Pequannock High School team, on hand.
Pequannock garnered Little League state titles in 2006, 2007 and 2009. The 2006 squad went all the way to the Little League World Series and was the runner-up.
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