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Morris All-Stars have one last chance to shine

MONTVILLE _ When Montville pitcher Jordan Strickland suffered a severe ankle sprain in the second game of the season, Kristie Monaco was called upon to take over in the circle and didn't object.

As it turned out, Strickland never returned and Monaco, an outfielder, kept firing pitches. That's why Mustangs coach John Immediato considered Monaco, a four-year starter, the "backbone of the team."

The adaptable and versatile Monaco made her exit from softball on Tuesday, June 13, the date of the Morris County Senior Softball All-Star Game. Monaco, headed to Seton Hall University, will not play in college so the all-star game at Municipal Fields was her finale.

"I'm done. This is it," said Monaco, a member of the Gold Team which triumphed 5-1 over the Blue Team. "I'm a little sad. I guess I really wish it would never end but, at some point, it has to."

Monaco bid farewell to the sport she has played since she was 8 years old by going 1 for 2. She was not called upon to pitch but that was OK.

"I had a nice time tonight," Monaco said. "The game was fun and I got to meet players from other teams. Everyone was so nice and welcoming. This was a good ending. I got a hit, made some plays in the outfield and met new people."

Although Monaco seems fine with her "retirement," Immediato has a large hole to fill. Not only did Monaco compile an 11-7 pitching record, she batted .450.

"Kristie took on all of the pitching duties after Jordan got hurt," he said. "She battled little injuries of her own, including an issue with her shoulder, but gave it all she had."

Whippany Park's Emily Sanchelli, on the Blue Team, also has opted not to don a uniform in college.

In Sanchelli's family, softball has been at the forefront. Her aunt, Karen, earned All-America honors at the University of South Carolina and represented the United States several times in international competition after graduating from Whippany Park High School. Her father, Frank, brother Frankie and sister Gabby played, too, as did several of her cousins. One of her uncles was involved with softball, too, as a coach.

"My family is really into softball," said Sanchelli, whose next stop is Kean. "I'm definitely going to miss it. I liked coming out after school to be with the team. I love the competition."

Sanchelli's high school career began at Mount St. Dominic. She had to sit out part of her sophomore year after transferring back to Whippany Park then started at third base for two seasons.

She made perhaps the most heads-up play of the Morris County Senior All-Star Game, tagging a runner caught in a rundown between second and third base before throwing to first to nab another overly aggressive runner. Sanchelli added a hit in the seventh inning.

"It was really interesting to play with people from different schools," Sanchelli said. "I'm happy I was chosen. It's nice to end it like this."

For Parsippany's Sarah Waffenfeld, the game afforded her another chance to catch for teammate Caitlin Brennan. Waffenfeld and Brennan were on the Blue Team, which scored its lone run on an error.

"It's so exciting," Waffenfeld said. "The seniors are getting mentioned. I might play club softball at Montclair State. I'm not sure. I've played since T-Ball. I knew stopping would be hard and it is."

ROSTERS

GOLD TEAM

Chatham: Bonnie Kennedy, Melissa Landry; Hanover Park: Nikkiann Giaimo, Maddie McLaughlin; Madison: Kelly Edwards; Mendham: Kaylee Allatta; Montville: Kristie Monaco; Morris Catholic: Elizabeth Rado; Morris Knolls: Melissa Ackerman, Carly Shaw; Morris Tech: Danielle Fralley; Morristown-Beard: Bay Naples; Mount Olive: Elise Enslin, Alyssa Mathura; Randolph: Kristen Lindquist.

BLUE TEAM

Boonton: Sarah Reed; Butler: Kellie Faber, Erin McFall; Jefferson: Isabel Seise, Nicole Vassallo; Morristown: Ada Patterson; Parsippany: Caitlin Brennan, Sarah Waffenfeld; Parsippany Hills: Kaila Rosamilia; Pequannock: Jonnalyn McClain, Hannah Brizek; Roxbury: Kayla Corrente; Villa Walsh: Christina Romagnoli; West Morris: Sydney Fehnel; Whippany Park: Emily Sanchelli.

Coaching suits Mendham's Messinger

Aly Messinger experienced great thrills in 2014 and 2016 when North Carolina captured NCAA Division I Women's Lacrosse Championships.

The second time around, Messinger, the former Mendham High School star, was named the Most Outstanding Player. One year later, Messinger is on longer on the turf but is serving as an assistant coach for Navy. 

"It's been awesome," Messinger said of coaching. "It's definitely different. It's a transition. There's a wonderful environment at Navy. I'm really enjoying it. I love the atmosphere and the lifestyle. I get to spread the sport I've loved and played for many years."

Messinger undoubtedly felt a little odd when the Midshipmen ousted second-seeded North Carolina from the 2017 NCAA Tournament with a 16-14 victory in the quarterfinal round. That victory earned Navy its first appearance in the NCAA semifinals.

Another highlight of Navy's season was its upset of Loyola to claim the Patriot League Championship. Prior to that, Loyola was 41-0 against Patriot League opponents.

There's no doubt Messinger, who had 149 goals and 81 assists as a four-year starter at North Carolina has had a major impact on Navy's offense in her first season on the sideline.

"The challenge of coaching is to get players to grow and develop," she said. "That's the best part of the job."

At first, Messinger, an exercise and sport science major with a concentration in sports marketing, wasn't sure if she wanted to coach. When the offer came from Navy head coach Cindy Timchal, Messinger decided to give it a try.

"I knew I'd regret it if I didn't coach," Messinger said. "The lacrosse world is small and there were a few openings. Cindy reached out to me and I went from there. It was the right choice. It's not time for me to leave the sport yet."

Messinger doesn't hesitate to join in at practices. Doing so keeps her connected and enables her to offer hands-on instruction.

"I play here and there," she said. "That's the nice thing about it. I fiddle with my stick and shoot around."

After the win over Loyola, Messinger was elated.

"Loyola had just won the conference so winning the tournament was super exciting," Messinger said. "It was a big, big win."

Kim edges out Nordqvist at ShopRite Classic

GALLOWAY TWP. _ It took a fall down the stairs for South Korea's In-Kyung Kim to rise to the top of the leaderboard and notch her fifth victory on the LPGA Tour.

In the offseason, several months after winning the Reignwood Classic last September, Kim fell and bruised her tailbone. The injury caused her to sit out several months. She returned to the tour only two and a half months ago.

On Sunday, June 4, Kim fired a 69 in the third and final round of the ShopRite Classic on the Bay Course at the Seaview Hotel and Golf Club and prevailed by two shots over defending champion Anna Nordqvist, who was seeking a threepeat, and earned $225,000. Americans Michelle Wie and Jacqui Concolino and Jenny Shin and Jeong Eun Lee finished tied for third.

"I still can't believe it," Kim said. "There were a lot of photos after the round that I didn't know (about). I feel pleased with how I played today. It was really tricky and a challenge out there but I gave my best. It's nice to win the tournament with everything that I gave."

Her play on the par 5s, she said, was strong in the first two rounds when she shot a 66 and 67, respectively. The par 3s were Kim's strong suit on Sunday. Kim felt that she "scrambled very well." 

It was perhaps the bruised tailbone that enabled the 28-year-old Kim, in her 11th year as a professional, to pick up the win in her sixth event of 2017. While out of action, Kim, active with Special Olympics, worked with her physiotherapist on her upper body strength.

“I'm really happy to come back stronger than I was before,” she said. “I couldn't have done it without all my trainer's support.”

The wind, which picked up by mid-afternoon, became an issue for many of the golfers. Kim and her playing partners, Paula Creamer and Moriya Jutanugarn, were put on the clock after their tee shots on the 11th hole after it was deemed they were playing too slowly. The golfers were taking extra time to assess their shots and choose the proper clubs.

"It was very difficult," said Kim, who planned to celebrate by dancing and ordering room service. "We were on the time all the time and trying to help each other a little bit here and there to tee off first and play ready golf. It was harder... It was just another day. We just had to play a little faster."

Paula Creamer, tied with Kim for the lead at 8-under after the second round, saw her chances slip away after carding bogeys on the 11th and 12th holes. Creamer, who also bogeyed No. 14, ended the Classic in seven place.

"You can't shoot over par on Sunday. That's for sure," Creamer said. "We were on the clock for four holes. That's just not going to cut it... We just couldn't get a rhythm, especially with some of these pins and with the wind and everything. It's all happening so fast and you kind of can't regroup."

Nordqvist, hoping to join Betsy King and Annika Sorenstam as the only players to take the ShopRite Classic three times, was a bit disappointed that she didn't get to hoist the crystal trophy yet was elated to be in contention.

"Having the honor to defend back to back is quite amazing," Nordqvist said. "I've had a lot of supporters cheering me on this week. I really appreciate everyone's support. There was pressure coming into it but it was fun. I'm trying to embrace it. I love this golf course. I love hitting the shots." 

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Chung settling in on LPGA Tour

GALLOWAY TWP. _ Karen Chung began her day with "a little tap," stringing together three shots for a birdie before 8 a.m.

Chung, playing in her first ShopRite LPGA Classic, rose early for her tee time on Saturday, June 3 and quickly deposited her ball into the cup.

The Livingston native's second shot on the 351-yard, par-4 first hole landed less than a foot from the flagstick, putting her in a perfect position for a birdie. It was certainly an encouraging, feel-good moment and Chung figured she'd ride it for the rest of her round.

Steady for the remainder of the front nine, Chung struggled over the last nine and had a 74, which was three over par on the 6,217-yard Bay Course at the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club. Chung, who posted a 71 on Friday, was immediately concerned about making the cut. As it turned out, her two-day total of 145 enabled her to survive.

Paula Creamer and In-Kyung Kim are 9 under and tied for the lead.Two-time defending champion Anna Nordqvist is 7 under and tied for third.

"It felt good. It was great," said Chung, an LPGA Tour rookie competing in her ninth tournament, of the birdie.

She was even over 10 holes then her game unraveled, mainly on the greens. Chung, paired with Jennifer Ha and Gaby Lopez, bogeyed five of her last eight holes. She birdied the 12th and 15th holes.

"My putting was kind of off," Chung said. "It wasn't very good yesterday, either. I was trying to get comfortable on the greens and adjust to them. I didn't read them very well. I just couldn't get it together. My shots were loose and I couldn't get up and down."

Being tied for 68th isn't what Chung, a recent graduate of USC whose degree is in communications, desired. Still, the chance to vie for part for part of the $1.5 million dollar purse is appealing. She's enjoying life on the tour after qualifying for it last December in Daytona Beach, Fla.

"Playing in New Jersey is awesome," Chung said. "It's my home state. I love playing here. The results are not what I wanted. It's fun playing on the tour. I'm out here with many of my friends from junior golf. I like being on the same stage as them."

Chung, a member of two Junior Solheim Cup Teams, likes the Bay Course, which she played as a junior golfer. However, she didn't remember much about it.

"The course is nice. It was ages ago when I played here," she said. "The layout is good. It's so challenging. It gives professionals a good run."

A handful of friends and family came out to watch Chung play. Among those in the mini gallery was her former piano teacher Eunmi Kim, a Bergen County resident.

"Karen is a dream chaser," Kim said. "She wanted to play golf and she made it come true. I'm so proud of her. I cry every time I see her. I can't believe it."

Kim noted that Chung was, and still is, an immensely talented musician. Chung played cello and piano and was accepted to the pre-college program at the Manhattan School of Music.

"She's so good at everything," Kim noted. "Karen learns quickly. She did very well with music then wanted to play golf. I knew she'd go far with whatever she did. She's like family to me."

Chung is the second New Jersey woman on the LPGA Tour. The other is Wayne's Marina Alex, a standout at Vanderbilt not very long ago. Chung cannot fathom that she has joined the ranks of pros, including one of her idols, Juli Inkster.

"It's awesome to see Juli at tournaments," Chung said. "I haven't met her yet. I'm too shy, too scared."

There's nothing timid, though, about her golf game, one she hopes will bring her success for many years to come.

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***

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Hornets, Falcons go distance, fall short

MADISON _ Hanover Park and Jefferson put in marathon efforts in bids to extend their seasons but fell short in sectional semifinals.

The Hornets' season ended with a 5-2 setback to Hackettstown in 10 innings in the North Jersey Section 2, Group II final on Wednesday, May 31. The Falcons were edged 5-4 by Ramsey in nine innings in the North Jersey Section 1, Group II title game on Tuesday, May 30.

"It was nice to go out like that," Hanover Park coach Jamie Galioto said. "It was a nice year. I don't mind losing a 10-inning game. We played hard. We played well. Hackettstown just capitalized on their opportunities more than we did."

The Tigers snapped a 2-2 deadlock in the top of the 10th inning when the international tiebreaker went into effect. Molly O'Brien, Hackettstown's first batter, hit an inside-the-park home run to put the Tigers up, 4-2. The visitors scored a third run as well on Alivia Duran's single.

Hanover Park (23-4) knotted the score, 2-2, in the bottom of the sixth. Amy Petrovich hit a line-drive single to right field. Nicole Miller also singled to right. Dara DiMaiolo, who went 2 for 4, then knocked in a run with a base hit to center field. An error enabled the second run to score.

Nicole Carter, the winning pitcher, doubled to left center field in the first inning to drive in a run and stake Hackettstown to a 1-0 lead. The Tigers made it 2-0 in the second on Cheyenne Scudder's leadoff triple and a groundout.

Carter went all 10 innings for Hackettstown, striking out seven, walking three and surrendering six hits.

"It was a really great game," Galioto said. "By the time both pitchers got to the 10th inning, they had thrown a lot of pitches. They were just going on their guts."

The Falcons (21-8) tangled with top-seeded Ramsey and its perfect record in a game that had a dramatic conclusion. Ryan Henry homered to left field in the lower half of the ninth inning to end a 4-4 deadlock for the Rams, now 28-0.

Katie DeBell put Jefferson on top quickly, plating a pair of runs with a single in the first inning. Ramsey came within one run, 2-1, on Maddie Taradash's homer in the fourth. The Rams benefited from the long ball again in the fifth as Victoria Sebastian belted a two-run homer to put the Rams in front, 3-2. Ramsey made it 4-2 in the same inning on Henry's RBI double.

The Falcons tacked on two runs in the seventh inning for 4-4. Chelsea Bitondo stroked an RBI base hit and there was a bases-loaded walk.  

No fluke as Johnson repeats

LAFAYETTE _ A year ago, Kittatinny's Annika Johnson left Farmstead Golf Club stunned by what she had accomplished.

Johnson was a freshman then and considered winning the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference Girls Golf Tournament "a complete shocker."

Now a 16-year-old sophomore, Johnson rose to the top again on Wednesday, May 31, shooting a 36 over nine holes on the Valley Course proving that she's clearly the best in the NJAC. Her round included six pars and a birdie and her score was four strokes less than the 2016 event.

"Last year was unexpected so I wanted to do it a second time," Johnson said. "I had so much fun. I'm definitely proud of it. I was nervous when I saw everyone arriving at the course. I was still nervous during the round. I kept saying 'Don't mess up. Don't mess up.' It all turned out well. I'm very happy with the end result."

Sarah Acquaviva of Pequannock was the NJAC runnerup with a 39. Mendham's Caroline Fischbach was third with a 42. Another Mendham golfer, Lindsay Perrin, fired a 44 to finish fourth. Heather Ivans of Chatham carded a 46 and was fifth. Morris County Tournament champion Christi Conroy recorded a 47 and was seventh.

Johnson's forte was her irons. Over the weekend while playing in a three-day Hurricane Tour Tournament at Black Bear, she noticed that the shots she hit with her irons were curving left. She needed to make an adjustment and aiming to the right of the pin helped.

Her birdie came on the par-4 No. 6 hole which is downhill and over a small pond. Johnson used a hybrid club off the tee and sent the ball about 175 yards. Her shot over the pond was on target, landing seven feet from flag. She recorded the birdie with an accurate putt.

The day did not start out well for Johnson, who had to pencil in a double bogey on the first hole. Her second shot found a greenside bunker. Johnson got out of the sand but was left with a 25-foot putt. It took her three putts to complete the hole.

"It was a little after 9 a.m. and it began to rain," Johnson said. "I thought the greens would be slower so I hit the ball harder. That didn't work out very well."

Beyond that, Johnson's round went relatively smoothly. Another highlight for her was the eighth hole, which is a long par 3. Johnson drove with a hybrid, leaving the ball short of the green. She chipped on and the ball rolled to the fringe. She figured the 20-foot downhill putt would be trouble but it wasn't. When Johnson struck the putt, she thought it was too fast yet it found the cup.

"Miraculously, it went in," Johnson said. "I hit it way too hard. I thought 'Wow! That really did happen.' I was surprised. I really enjoy putting and I've worked on it a lot. It paid off."

Since triumphing at Farmstead, which she considers a second home, last year, Johnson has put in many hours trying to improve. She competes in Hurricane Tour and NJPGA tournaments to hone her already advanced skills.

Many people have played a role in Johnson's success, including her father, Keith, high school coach Matt Majka, Tom Reynolds and Marybeth Kohberger. 

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Golden Eagles achieve desired outcome

FAIR LAWN _ Right fielder Jess Heitmann settled in under the fly ball in right field, caught it then raced to the infield to join her teammates and revel in the sectional title victory Morris Knolls had waited three years for.

"This is great. I felt really confident today," Heitmann said of the Golden Eagles' 8-2 win over Fair Lawn that enabled them to hoist the North Jersey Section 1, Group IV trophy after being denied in 2015 and 2016. "Our team had a lot of energy and had momentum for the whole game. I didn't think it'd be so much so early. I figured it'd be closer."

But it wasn't. Morris Knolls (24-4) took a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Melissa Ackerman, its No. 3 batter, stepped to the plate and slugged a two-run homer. Heitmann stroked an RBI single in the second inning. In the third inning, Breanna O'Shea doubled to the fence in right center field knocking in two more runs and putting the Golden Eagles up, 5-0.

Getting the job done was of the utmost importance to Morris Knolls, which fell to Livingston in last year's sectional final and to Ridgewood two years ago. The Golden Eagles, who have clashed for top sectional honors for four consecutive years, shut out Roxbury in 2014 in the championship game.

"It's good to finally win this after not getting the outcomes we wanted," Morris Knolls coach Keith Heinemann said. "These seniors were freshmen when we got the last one. We hit the ball well and Brooke (Wiarda) pitched well. We wanted to be patient at the plate and not chase anything. This is awesome. Fair Lawn is a dangerous team. They beat IHA twice this season."

Nothing, apparently, was going to stop Morris Knolls, which rapped out 14 hits, three apiece by O'Shea and Ackerman and two by C.J. Shaw, in its quest. The Golden Eagles chased Fair Lawn ace Alyssa Schmidt in the third inning after O'Shea's double. Brooke Wiarda was solid in the circle for Morris Knolls, yielding six hits and striking out 10.

"This is great," said O'Shea, the left fielder. "We worked so hard. I knew we could hit her. We were prepared. I gave my all. We gave our all. We knew what to do. We've been here before."

For O'Shea, who has been playing softball since the age of 5, the state tournament run will be her last. She's heading off to Florida Gulf Coast, where she will major in math. O'Shea will not don a uniform in college.

Wiarda, a senior righty, was sharp, holding Fair Lawn down by "hitting my spots and spinning the ball." Her drop curve and changeup were her most effective pitches. Wiarda recalled the 2014 sectional title game. She had been on the freshman team but was called up to varsity for the state tourney.

"I got to watch," she said. "It was fun. Back then, we looked to other people to get things done. Now, we're doing it. I'm like 'I've got this.'"

Fair Lawn (24-4) got its first run in the bottom of the third inning when its leadoff hitter, Danielle Jurcevic, had a two-run base hit. Jurcevic also knocked in Fair Lawn's other run with a solo home run to lead off the lower half of the sixth inning.

In the fourth inning, the hot-hitting Ackerman added on two more RBIs with a single. Morris Knolls' eighth run came across when Wiarda drew a bases-loaded walk in the fifth inning. Back-to-back-to-back singles by Morgan DeLoreto, Meaghan Thompson and O'Shea filled the bases.

Ackerman, responsible for driving in the game-winning run when Morris Knolls, whose opponent in the group semifinals will be the winner of Hunterdon Central/Bridgewater-Raritan, defeated Bloomfield in 10 innings in the semifinals, has five hits and six RBIs in her last two games.

"I've always been taught to go up and drive the ball," Ackerman said. "I just eye up a good pitch. There's no such thing as a perfect pitch. I go fishing and drive it hard. Winning today is great. You always want to be better than before, to come back stronger. After the county tournament loss (to Parsippany), we knew there were more games, another tournament."

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW*** 

Mtn. Lakes dominant at section meet

MADISON _ A meet record fell and several athletes garnered gold with first-place finishes when Mountain Lakes captured its second consecutive sectional title.

Although senior Maggie Smith came in second in her event, the pole vault, at the North Jersey Section 2, Group II meet, her performance was just as significant. Smith, who began competing in pole vault last year, cleared 9 feet to set a school record.

"It's so nice to have the school record," Smith said. "It's great. I give a lot of credit to my pole vault coach (Jim Murmane). I'm graduating but, with him still around, it'll be broken soon. He's really, really good."

The Lakers, paced by another senior, Kyra Velock, took top honors in a new group and section at the two-day meet that concluded on Saturday, May 27. In 2016, they claimed top honors in North Jersey Section 1, Group I and went on to nab the Group I crown. Velock took first in the 400-meter dash, 1,600 meters, 800 meters and was on the triumphant 4x400 team. The 2:13.45 she clocked in the 800-meter run set a meet record.

Lainie Seijas, Class of 2017, had a big meet for Mountain Lakes, finishing atop the field in the triple jump and long jump. She ran a leg, too, of the 4x400.

Smith got 9 feet, 3 inches in a practice meet two days before sectionals and realized she could better her current mark.

"That really helped," she said of the practice meet. "I figured out where to hold, where my step was. I was nervous during the meet but kind of controlled. I wanted it."

Murmane worked with Smith on her technique and "how to fix things." A mechanical engineer, Murmane, of course, has advanced analytical skills and a knack for developing successful plans.

"He taught me to see others' mistakes. I look for them now," Smith said. "I use those mistakes to help me."

Mountain Lakes co-coach Sue Bessin noted that Smith could only get over the bar at 7 feet last year and lauded her for her "incredible improvement."

Velock, Izzi Gengaro and Therese Olshanski finished 1-2-3 in the 1,600 meters on the opening day of the meet. On the second day, Velock, Gengaro and Olshanski swept the 800 meters.

The Lakers took the 4x400 and 4x800 relays. The 4x400 participants were Seijas, Sierra Lore, Hailey Sheppell and Velock. The 4x800 runners were Gengaro, Ally Jin, Lucie Smith and Therese Olshanski.

Several of the athletes won or placed at the meet. Olshanski, a senior, was third in the 800 and 1,600. Senior Sydney McDonald was second in the high jump and fourth in the 100 hurdles. Sophomore Jaelyn Gawley was third in the javelin. Sheppell was third in the 200 and a member of the unit that was second in the 4x100.

"This group is a pleasure," Bessin said. "Many of them are experienced and know what they're doing. It trickles down and affects the younger athletes. They do the right things. They all get to practice on time. They warm up. They cool down. They have the right equipment."

Gawley said that the upperclassmen have been a great help to her.

"The younger girls just click with the older ones," Gawley said. "We're so close. The most important thing they tell me is to think about myself. They tell me not to worry if I've had a bad day. They want me to think about all of the time I've been throwing."

Gawley is seeking redemption at the group meet after a lackluster effort as a freshman.

"I didn't do very well," Gawley said. "Going back is redemption. I hope to do better."

Gigi Bello, a junior, was fifth in the long jump with a leap of 16 feet, 3 inches, a personal record. Bello fouled on her initial two attempts before getting the PR.

"I'm excited. I never got this far before," Bello said. "It was a really nice day, just perfect for jumping."

Going into the meet, Bello was nervous. After fouling, she made several adjustments, including taking a few steps back before beginning her run.

"I moved back a foot," Bello explained. I ran really fast. I gave it all I had and extended a lot." 

Knolls triumphs in 10th inning

DENVILLE _ When Morris Knolls' state game versus Bloomfield entered the 10th inning, Golden Eagles outfielder Melissa Ackerman was actually overjoyed.

The score was tied, 3-3, and the international tiebreaker rule would go into effect. And, even when the visiting Bengals went up by a run in the top of the 10th, Ackerman, due to be up fourth in the lower half of the inning, was still OK.

As it turned out, Ackerman got her chance in the batter's box and knocked in the game-winning run with two outs, lifting second-seeded Morris Knolls to a 5-4 victory over No. 6 Bloomfield in a North Jersey Section 1, Group IV semifinal on Friday, May 26.

Allie Schey, a senior like Ackerman, doubled to the gap in left-center field to knock in the tying run, also with two outs. Clearly, the Golden Eagles, denied the Morris County Tournament title two and a half weeks ago, are on a mission to extend their season as long as possible.

"It's good. It's amazing," Ackerman said. "We were in the same spot as they were in the 10th inning. Anyone can make a mistake. Anyone can get an important hit. We battled and we stayed strong. Nothing beats pressure situations. This is what you want. Tenth inning and a runner on second base... Just keep it going."

The win earned Morris Knolls (23-4) a berth in the sectional final for the fourth consecutive year. The Golden Eagles will travel to Fair Lawn on Tuesday, May 30 for a 4 p.m. matchup.

Schey as well was not going to get rattled, even though the Golden Eagles were one out away from seeing their season end. Carley Mahan, the first batter up, bunted over Jess Heitmann, the runner placed on second, to start the bottom of the 10th. After a popup, Schey got hold of a 2-0 pitch from Lexi Corio for her double, plating Heitmann and knotting the score, 4-4.

"I was a little nervous and Coach Heinemann was like 'Leave your doubt at the door,'" Schey said. "I thought I already passed the door. We needed a hit."

Ackerman's single caused a delirious celebration. The dugout emptied and the elated players were jumping up and down. They surrounded Ackerman and Schey before falling to the infield dirt. They planned stay together and go for ice cream afterward.

"This group wants a championship," Heinemann said. "Not winning the counties motivated them. It made them hungry. These girls are older now. Some of them have started for two or three years. They've been through the fire and know what's expected."

Ayana Andrade-Zygmunt had a sacrifice fly to give Bloomfield a 4-3 edge in the 10th.

Morris Knolls took a 2-0 lead on Meaghan Thompson's home run in the fourth inning. Ackerman got the first of her three hits to open that inning. After a strikeout, Thompson homered. In the fifth, the Bengals (17-11) put across three runs. With one out attained on a strikeout, Golden Eagles pitcher Brooke Wiarda, who tossed a four-hitter with nine strikeouts, hit two batters - Nos. 8 and 9 in the order - with pitches. Back-to-back-to-back RBI base hits by Andrade-Zygmunt, Jalia Santos and Jamell Quiles ensued.

"That was uncharacteristic of Brooke," Heinemann said of the hit batsmen. "She hung in there and overcame it."

Ackerman picked up her first RBI with a fifth inning single, bringing Morris Knolls even with Bloomfield, 3-3.

Mahan, the freshman second baseman, had the defensive gem of the game, running down a ball hit to the shallow outfield behind first base and making a diving catch to deprive Corio of a hit in the sixth inning.

Wiarda had her moment, fanning Bloomfield's No. 3 and 4 batters for the last two outs in the top of the 10th.

"I trust my teammates," Ackerman said. "I have faith and know someone will get the job done. We're there for each other. We did it together."

The Golden Eagles fell to Livingston in the sectional title game in 2016 and lost to Ridgewood in 2015. The 2014 squad claimed a sectional championship, blanking Roxbury, 5-0.

"We lost pretty bad last year (13-3 to Livingston) and we want redemption for that," Schey said. "We're upset about the county final, too. That's why every game since then is so important."

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW, INCLUDING ONES OF THE DRAMATIC FINISH VERSUS BLOOMFIELD!!***

Giaimo, Hornets back in sectional final

EAST HANOVER _ Prior to the season, Hanover Park coach Jamie Galioto had a conversation with Nikkiann Giaimo and requested that the senior catcher focus primarily on defense.

"I told Nikkiann that whatever we got offensively was fine," Galioto said. "We need her for defense. I didn't want her worrying about anything else."

Giaimo adhered to the plan, of course. She wasn't exactly laidback when at the plate. She simply didn't pressure herself.

On Wednesday, May 24, Giaimo had a stellar day in the batter's box, rapping out two hits and driving in four runs to pace a 12-hit attack when the top-seeded Hornets defeated Caldwell 9-1 in a North Jersey Section 2, Group II semifinal.

The victory vaults Hanover Park (23-3) into the sectional final for the first time since 2013. The Hornets will play host to Hackettstown, which ousted second-seeded Parsippany, on Tuesday, May 30 in the title game. Four years ago, Hanover Park made it all the way to the group finals, falling to Robbinsville, 3-1.

"I'm very happy," Galioto said. "Caldwell is a great program. They're well coached. We knew it'd be a tough game. Caldwell feeds off of energy. If we got on them early, the game was ours."

Giaimo and her teammates remembered their coach's words and produced three runs over the first two innings. Amanda Bermel had a one-out bunt single before Amy Petrovich doubled. Nicole Miller walked to load the bases. Giaimo knocked in the first two runs with a single. The lead went to 3-0 in the second on Aryana Galioto's base hit.

Caldwell (14-9) made it 3-1 in the top of the third on a groundout by Christina Guarino. Hanover Park got four runs in the bottom of the fifth with two outs. Giaimo was clutch again, plating a pair of runs by singling off a 3-1 pitch. Jess Miller, the winning pitcher, helped her own cause, taking a first-pitch offering and depositing over the fence in left field. The two-run shot was Miller's sixth homer of the season and put Hanover Park up, 7-1.

"The ball felt nice coming off of the bat," Jess Miller said of the home run. "Sometimes, it doesn't feel as good. I saw it going. Our coach was excited. I got a high five and got to keep going."

After putting down Caldwell 1-2-3 in the top half of the sixth, the Hornets, who have won 12 of their last 13 games, posted two more runs on a Petrovich groundout and a passed ball. Miller then retired the Chiefs in order in the seventh.

"We're really excited about being in the final," said Petrovich, who got her 100th hit versus Roselle Park 12 days ago. "We haven't made it in awhile."

Giaimo, naturally, was pleased with the damage she did with her bat.

"Coach G told me to hover over the plate and just drive it," Giaimo said.

Galioto praised her for her devotion to strong "D" yet was certainly glad to see her contribute with so much on the line.

"Whatever we're getting from Nikkiann now is gravy," he said. "She's come around and is driving the ball. Now the sky is the limit."

Two other players had two hits for Hanover Park, Galioto and Petrovich. Chipping in with one hit were the younger Galioto, Bermel, Nicole Miller, Jess Miller, Dara DiMaiolo, Maddie McLaughlin and Melissa Zweigbaum. Jess Miller went the distance, surrendering four hits, striking out one and walking two.

Jess Miller's main objective was to keep Guarino, who also notched her 100th career hit this spring, from getting on base. Guarino went hitless, flying out to center field, grounding out and drawing a walk.

"(Guarino) had one RBI in most of the games they won," noted Jess Miller, adept at moving the ball around and working the outside. "If she didn't drive in a run, they'd lose. If we could hold her off, we'd do OK."

Petrovich, a junior second baseman, has had a hit in every game but three this season. However, the march to 100 hits was a bit trying.

"I had some trouble getting there," she said. "I felt the pressure."

Next in Petrovich's sights is 150 hits. The goal is a lofty one but she said she'll "wait and see."

Routine and a bit of superstition have played a role in Hanover Park's success. For example, Galioto always parks in spot No. 011 near the junior varsity field and wears a black shirt with gold cargo shorts.

"I like to do the exact same things," Galioto said.

As do the players. According to Petrovich, the Hornets, following Galioto's lead, have become creatures of habit.

"We live on routine," Petrovich said. "We do the same warmup, say the same things. On slap defense, I joke with Jess. All of our infielders wear hats."

Hanover Park anticipated a showdown with Parsippany, which it split with, prevailing, 8-7, and losing, 9-4. They had much scouting information on the Red Hawks.

"I know our coach wanted Parsippany," Miller said. "We'll got at it and see what happens. I think we're the team to take it all."

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