RINGWOOD _ Morristown National's Sydney Champi did not tremble on her way to the batter's box nor when she dug her cleats into the dirt next to home plate.
Fourth inning. Scoreless game. Two runners on.
Even when the count went to 0-2, Champi remained calm.
Champi's eyes locked in on low inside pitch and she sent the ball up the middle, driving in what proved to be the game's only run. The base hit proved to be monumental, enabling Morristown National to trim host Ringwood 1-0 in a Section 1 Junior Little League winners' bracket game at Stonetown Recreation Complex on Thursday, July 9.
"I love being under pressure," Champi said. "It's my favorite. I love it. It's like I have to hit."
The single sent Morristown National into the section final on Saturday, July 11. It will go up against Ringwood again at 11 a.m. A win would give Morristown National its ticket to the state tournament.
Champi, who underwent major surgery on her right knee in November of 2014, considered the single "the biggest hit I've had in awhile, maybe ever."
She did just fine getting to first base, carried in part by the knee, which needed ligaments fixed and had no cartilage prior to the operation. There was no incident that caused damage to the knee. Champi said it was genetic.
Being sidelined did not sit well with Champi, soon to be a sophomore at Morristown High School. She missed playing winter volleyball and sat out the high school softball season. Champi, a first baseman, returned to action for the town league and was a member of the McDonald Auto Body team. She hit but always had a runner.
"Not playing was very discouraging," Champi said. "I thought I'd never play again. I decided I wanted to come back better than before."
The clutch hit was another step in the process. Shannon Costello and Molly Murphy, who reached on singles, waited for Champi's bat to bite into a pitch. Seeing Champi contribute again warms manager Bob Costello's heart. He noted that she doubled in the section opener versus Ridgewood.
"Sydney just keeps working," Bob Costello said. "She's swinging the bat well. That was a big spot. It was a special moment for her. All of Sydney's teammates love her. She doesn't complain. She does everything we ask her to do."
Morristown National, which totaled seven hits, loaded the bases following Champi's run-producing single. The threat ended when Ringwood pitcher Ashley Wallach (4 Ks, 7 hits allowed) got a strikeout in a full-count situation.
"Everyone did well tonight," Champi said. "I'm not surprised. I've never been on a better team."
With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Ringwood had two runners on after hits by Gianna DePiano and Amanda Garcia. Izzy Del Monte had a ball hit to her in right field. Del Monte fielded the ball and at fired to shortstop Brigid McNamara covering second base for the second out. Murphy then sealed the victory with her 12th strikeout.
Sarah Masker had two hits for Ringwood while Taylor Van Orden and Madison Gunn had one apiece.
"It's going to be tough," said Champi, looking ahead to Saturday's matchup. "I think we can do it."
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