PARSIPPANY _ Slumps are trying so it's understandable why Par-Troy East's Megan Leitner was so enthused when she put the ball over the fence in left-center field in the sixth inning.
Leitner, PTE's center fielder, has been in a funk since mid-May, unable to figure out what where her usually sweet power swing has gone.
The home run, one of two hit by PTE in its Little League Senior Section 1 Series opener on Monday, July 6, provided the last three runs in a 9-3 win over Tri-Town.
Leitner proved she's back in the groove, going 2 for 4 when PTE defeated Tri-Town 8-4 on July 7 to wrap up its second consecutive section crown.
"I don't know what was wrong," Leitner said after the first game. "I'm not sure. I was getting singles here and there but not clutch hits. I really needed that. The home run raised my confidence. I'm finally hitting again."
It's not that Leitner, the second batter in PTE's order, isn't trying. She regularly works on her batting with her father, Rich, the team's manager and has been known to hit 10 to 15 homers during batting practice. Leitner has been doing strength training with Mike Kennedy and Billy Fischer at Pinnacle Athletic Development in Fairfield for the last 10 months, more proof of her relentless desire to excel.
During Parsippany High School's season, Leitner feels she may have been dropping her hands. At the start of the Little League All-Star season, she thought she might not have been "pushing out far enough," causing her to make poor or no contact.
Carly Homler, called on to pinch hit, singled and Luisa Barone was hit by a pitch, setting the stage for Leitner's smile-inducing blast in the bottom of the sixth inning.
"Megan started off the high school season hot," Rich Leitner said. "It just gets in your head. Megan works hard. She broke out tonight."
Following the game, Megan Leitner got an additional boost when the father of a future PTE standout approached and informed her that she was his daughter's favorite player.
"That was really nice," Megan Leitner said. "It's cool that I'm someone's favorite."
Catcher Elizabeth Quigley, No. 3 in the lineup, also had been slumping but belted a solo homer to center field in the third inning to give PTE a 3-1 lead in the opener. Quigley rapped out two hits and had two RBIs in the second game.
"It's exciting," Quigley said. "I'm not in a big slump but I haven't been hitting as well as I can. I was proud to get a home run. It was close for awhile. It gave us some comfort."
The superstitious Quigley, soon to be a sophomore at Morris County School of Technology, left her headband in her bag before stepping into the batter's box in the third inning. She normally folds the headband a certain way before putting it in her right back pocket. From now on, Quigley said, the headband will remain in her bag.
PTE's 13-hit attack in the first game of the best-of-three series was paced by Barone, Leitner, Quigley and Caitlin Brennan with two hits apiece. Brennan, the winning pitcher, was overpowering, striking out 12, allowing seven hits and giving up a pair of unearned runs.
"Everyone seems to be hitting," Rich Leitner said. "They're ending their slumps."
Tri-Boro reached Brennan for a run in the top of the first inning in Game One, using a base hit by Nicole Conti to get on the scoreboard. Groundouts by Alyssa Feola and Julia Delviscio put PTE in front, 2-1, in the lower half of the first.
Samantha Beck knocked in Melissa Konoponski with a single in the fifth, cutting Tri-Boro's deficit to one, 3-2. PTE received hits from Barone, Leitner, and Alivia Mercuro (RBI) before Brennan lashed a two-run single. A bases-loaded walk to Caitlin Monahan in the sixth inning accounted for Tri-Boro's third run.
"We were a lot younger last year," Megan Leitner said. "We weren't as experienced but we still almost won the states. We're so much better now."
PTE vaulted into the state tournament by pounding out 15 hits in the second game. Barone and Alivia Mercuro had three hits apiece. Alyssa Feola and Julia DelViscio chipped in with two hits each. Brennan earned the pitching victory with a six-hitter. She struck out five.
A three-run third inning gave PTE the lead on Tuesday. Trailing 2-1, PTE received RBI base hits from DelViscio, Barone and Quigley to go up, 4-2.
In the second inning, Feola, the right fielder, caught a fly ball and threw to second to catch a runner off base for a double play.
Now PTE is headed back to the state tournament, which begins Tuesday, July 14 in Lodi. The girls will be playing with a vengeance after falling 12-10 to Manasquan/Brielle/Wall in the final in 2015. PTE held a 9-3 advantage after four innings but made too many mental errors.
"I'd like to see us put on a similar but have a different ending and win the last game," Rich Leitner said. "All nine starters are back so they want it, too."