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France's Herbin hopes this is her time

GALLOWAY _ Celine Herbin knew her decision to leave her job as a biochemical engineer at the age of 27 to pursue a career in golf would make people question her mental stability.

Herbin was right. Everyone considered her...

"Crazy," she recalled. "It was looking very much like a dream to be a professional golfer at 27 when I was not at all the top player in France."

Still, Herbin, now 35, persisted, playing first on the European Tour before joining the LPGA. As of Saturday, June 9, Herbin, was in an enviable position - she had the clubhouse lead after shooting a 66 in the second round of the ShopRite Classic. In the opening round, Herbin also had a 66. Now, she is 10 under par and sitting atop the leaderboard.

Sei Young Kim had played 15 holes, recording birdies on seven of her last 10 holes, when darkness halted play. At that point, she was tied with Herbin at 10-under. When a weather delay caused tournament officials to clear the course at 1 p.m., Herbin, aiming for her first LPGA championship, was on the 18th tee waiting to tee off. She returned three hours later and birdied No. 18.

"Obviously, it's a good position to be," said Herbin, a native of France. "I don't really look at the leaderboard so I didn't really know what was going on today. I was just focused on my game. So I'm glad I'm the leader but there's still lots of players who have to play. Might not be at the end of the day. What counts is the leaderboard tomorrow night."

During the weather delay, brought on by thunder and lightning, Herbin took a nap and read the news. She mentioned Simona Halep of Romania claiming her first major, the French Open, after losing three previous finals. Halep, No. 1 in the world, won one tournament in the last 12 months before triumphing at Roland Garros.

Herbin's determination, passion and the coaching of Vicente Ballesteros enabled her to earn her full card on the Ladies European Tour in 2012. According to Herbin, Ballesteros changed her game completely six months before qualifying school. She competed on the LET for several years, picked up her LPGA credentials in 2015 then went back to her country to take part in the French Open, which she won.

"It's a little improvement every year," Herbin said. "So I won on the French Open. Last December, almost won the Dubai. You have to be patient in your career. Everybody has his own time."

Will this weekend be her time? Possibly.

"There is no secret really," she said. "It's to just keep on working on what I'm doing. I don't care if you miss 10 cuts if you win the 11th. The missed cut doesn't mean too much. What means is the work you do every day to keep on working on your game. You know it's going to come. You have to wait. So you never know what's going to come. Just keep on playing." 

Ashleigh Buhai had a 66 and was in a cluster with Annie Park (65), Mariah Stackhouse (65) and Su Oh, who has two holes left to play, were behind Herbin and Kim.

Buhai has been unable to get all aspects of her game in sync. If she's driving well, she isn't putting well and vice versa.

"The last two days, it just all started to click," said Buhai, who hails from South Africa. "I really try to commit and swing through the ball this week. I found a little something on the range late Thursday and I was able to take it into Friday."

The "little something" she found with the help of her husband, Kevin, and her caddie was that she was hanging back a little bit on her right side. It was determined she had to go through more on her left side.

"I just had to swing through it, commit to it," Buhai said. "I was just kind of pulling out of the shot a little bit. It definitely played a part this week."

Marina Alex had a 68 for a two-day total of 135 and was one of six players in seventh place. The Wayne Hills High School graduate teed off at 8:32 a.m. and got her round in before players were asked to clear the course.

Being among the leaders - and making the cut - certainly was pleasing to Alex, who has not been very successful here. In her six previous appearances at the ShopRite Classic, she made the cut twice and finished tied for 40th in 2012 and was in 65th place in 2016.

"Yeah, it's really cool," Alex said of making it to the third and final round at the ShopRite. "It was a similar experience to last year at the Open. U.S. Open. I played well. There is definitely some positive stuff to pull from there and I'm looking forward to tomorrow."'

Last summer, Alex had a memorable U.S. Open in her home state, ending the U.S. Open at Trump National tied for 11th. She earned $699,895 on the tour in 2017, the most she has made in her six-year career.

On Saturday, the key for Alex was simply hitting the ball straight and keeping it in play. She had a few trouble spots as evidenced by two bogeys but made them irrelevant with five birdies, including two on par 5s.

"I just kept it in the right parts of the golf course," Alex said. "Hit a lot of fairways out here like I did yesterday. If I wasn't on the green, I had only had one kind of really tricky up and down, which I didn't get up and down. That was kind of the only spot in I think two days, that I really put myself in a place where par was going to be pretty challenging so just hitting it in a spot where I'm safe to make a par if I'm not close enough to the hole."

Creamer, in Alex's group, was delighted to record a 66 in the second round and to tied for seventh place. Creamer, who said she "started over" after undergoing surgery on her left wrist last fall to repair an inflamed tendon, thrived with her driver, iron and wedges. She is seeking her 11th LPGA title.

"After my surgery, we just really wanted to break everything down and basically start over again. Now that I'm strong and healthy, I can do a lot more things with my golf swing. I'm able to put the ball. I'm in a better position with my hands and my wrists.

"It's not easy taking it from a driving range to a tournament. I don't know, for some reason, I've always played really well here. I've felt good. I went home after the Open for a couple days and worked on some really good things. Just taking what the golf course gives me."

Creamer penciled in eight birdies. It was the most she's had in awhile and she found it encouraging. In 2017, Creamer was tied for the lead at the Shop Rite Classic going into the final round with a 67-66 but faltered on Sunday by shooting a 74 and wound up in seventh place.

"I just want to keep doing what I'm doing with my swing, not do anything different really," Creamer said. "It's another day out on the golf course. I know last year when I came in, (it was) kind of a similar situation. I mean, I don't know what's going to happen this afternoon, but I'll be within four or five of the lead... I put a little bit too much pressure on myself and didn't quite perform the way I wanted to on Sunday. I know that going into it. I just have to go out and have fun and enjoy it." 

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Diaz, with son by her side, among leaders at ShopRite

GALLOWAY _ Most kids aren't anxious to do chores.

Mow the lawn? Maybe tomorrow. Take out the trash? Later. Carry your mom's golf bag? Absolutely.

Toting a golf bag isn't a typical chore so 12-year-old Cooper Diaz was more than willing when his mother, Laura, needed a caddie for the 2018 ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The younger Diaz not only shouldered clubs, he did it well, receiving a grade of 95 for his effort, and Laura Diaz, relaxed by his presence, fired a 66 at the Stockton Seaview Resort's Bay Course in first-round play which commenced on Friday, June 8.

Anna Nordqvist and Celine Herbin also shot 66s and were tied for the lead with Diaz. Nine players, including New Jersey native Marina Alex, were in fourth with 67s. 

“I’m very happy with how I played,” Diaz said. “It’s more special because I have my son with me. It was great. He wasn’t nervous. He was perfect so it’s a calming influence. I think I spent more time worrying about him.”

Diaz, who joined the LPGA in 1999 and won two events in 2002, came to New Jersey with the intention of taking part in the pro-ams and figured she'd try to qualify on Monday, June 4. Two days before the qualifier, she got a berth in the 144-player field. On Sunday, Diaz made the trip north from Winston-Salem, N.C. in torrential rain. Instead of competing in the qualifier on Monday, Diaz practiced. She then took to the course, as planned, for the pro-ams on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. 

The 5-under-par showing by the 43-year-old Diaz was amazing considering the only other competitive golf she played this year was the qualifier for the U.S. Open three weeks ago, where she shot a 73 and failed to make the cut. Diaz was steady the entire way, carding birdies on the second, third, ninth, 12th and 17th holes.

Diaz appeared to be in command and enjoying herself but it was quite the opposite.

"I didn't feel good at all the whole day," Laura Diaz said. "No, I mean, obviously nerves are very present. I think that I'm not the first to say that the day that I come to the first tee and I'm not nervous, then that's the day I shouldn't play.

"You know, there was a little bit in the last few years that they really seemed to get to me more so I think my biggest challenge is figuring out how to not let them get to me. He's a huge asset in that because I can focus more on him than me."

It was quite an experience for the younger Diaz, although it wasn't the first time he has traversed a course with his mother. Last year in Wisconsin, Cooper caddied in 95-degree weather with 100 percent humidity when Laura Diaz played a practice round and he found the task difficult. 

"I have a caddie who has caddied for me the last few years, Pete, and he's awesome," Laura Diaz said. "I didn't want him to wait for me so I said to Cooper 'Listen, it's a flat golf course. The weather should be perfect.' (In Wisconsin), it was a real estate property so there were long walks between tees and greens. After an 18-hole practice round, he was like, 'Mom, I can't do this.' He was just honest about it. He's grown about four inches since last year and is playing a little bit more golf. TaylorMade was nice enough to send a bag that's comfortable for him to carry. He didn't complain not one time."

There was one little detail that Cooper, a three-sport athlete, neglected - cleaning her golf balls - yet his mother took it in stride. She spit on them to keep them clean.

"There's room for improvement," she said, jokingly.

Of course, that was nothing considering what Diaz, who has 58 career top 10s and earnings of $5.4 million, has endured over the last few years. In 2016, after Diaz took leave from the tour, she broke her leg while training for a marathon. Her 2015 season was unspectacular (she missed 16-of-18 cuts) and she contemplated not returning. That's why a day in the lead is such a thrill.

"It's just a lot of fun," she said. "I think the last few years have been hard. I came out with a little bit different perspective last year and just tried to play a little bit more relaxed."

Over the last few years, Diaz has devoted more time to her family. She watches Cooper compete in baseball, golf and basketball. Lilly, her 8-year-old daughter, is involved in swimming and soccer. Diaz is junior varsity coach for Cooper's golf team at St. Leo's Catholic School.

Nordqvist, the 30-year-old native of Sweden, whose birthday is Sunday, concluded her round on the par-5 ninth hole with a birdie, her fifth of the day. The ShopRite Classic champion in 2015 and 2016 and the runner-up in 2017, Nordqvist said she "struck the ball well" and "was patient."

"I have a lot of good memories from here," Lindqvist said. "It's a place that makes me happy."

Alex shocked herself because she normally does not do well here. On Tuesday, she worked with her putting coach and godfather, Charlie Cowell, to sharpen her short game. Alex felt she got up and down well and made good chips. And, she did it without family and friends looking on.

"No one is here yet," Alex said of her family and friends. "Maybe that's a good thing. Yeah, my mom is in New Jersey but my younger cousin, she's 9, she has a big dance recital tomorrow. They're going to do all that and the plan is to come down on Sunday."

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Hornets garner sectional crown

PARSIPPANY _ It was another joyous moment in the history of the Hanover Park softball program when it defeated Parsippany 12-5 for the North Jersey Section 2, Group II title.

The Hornets had a subdued celebration then went to right field to discuss what previously had been prohibited: The fact that their Group II semifinal against Ramsey, slated for 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 31 at Seton Hall University, would start at the same time as the prom.

"We haven't mentioned it once because it would have been a distraction," Hanover Park coach Jamie Galioto said. "We knew when the next game was if we won. That's why we had the pow wow afterward. The prom's been the pink elephant in the room. There are some girls who have a decision to make. They have to decide and live with it. Those decisions will be respected. It'll be a learning experience for everyone."

Five girls - senior four-year starters Amy Petrovich and Jess Miller and three underclassmen - have to choose between the big dance and the game that could earn them a berth in the state final. Petrovich, the second baseman, already had her mind made up. She's foregoing the prom and putting on her No. 55 jersey.

"I'm here for the team," said Petrovich, who had two RBIs in the most recent victory over the Red Hawks on Tuesday, May 29. "It'll be OK."

For some, it may not be. Galioto says there will be no animosity toward anyone who picks dancing over the diamond. Miller, who scattered seven hits and struck out three, was emotional after the win, excited to add a sectional crown to the Morris County Tournament championship Hanover Park claimed earlier this month after a 39-year drought but upset about the prom to be held at Brooklake Country Club.

Galioto said that the NJSIAA was contacted after the game about the possibility of playing the game earlier in the day, perhaps at Caldwell University, where Indian Hills and Middletown North are slated to clash at 1:30 p.m. in a Group III semifinal. If a change is unable to be made, he understands and will make sure his team does, too.

No doubt, the Hornets (25-6) still were quietly elated about defeating Parsippany, which it played four times this spring, going 2-2.

Miller saw seven batters and gave up three runs in the first inning but clamped down. Three hits, including a double to Claudia Bennett, Parsippany's very first batter, a walk and an error, allowed the home team to take charge. After that, Miller put down 12 consecutive batters until Bennett singled with two outs in the fifth inning. A home run by Jenna Devens ensued and cut the Hornets' lead to seven runs - the final margin of victory.

"Seeing the home run had me a little worried," said Miller, whose best pitch versus the Red Hawks was her curveball. "I had to get out of that inning and calm it down."

Hanover Park got to work right away, scoring twice in the first inning on Petrovich's RBI base hit and Nicole Miller's sacrifice fly. The Hornets widened their advantage to 5-3 an inning later aided by four walks and hit batsmen. Aryana Galioto, a sophomore center fielder, drove in two more runs with a single in the third inning. Galioto finished with three RBIs.  

The Hornets went through their entire lineup in the fourth inning and plated five runs. Again, walks, an error and a wild pitch proved costly. Nicole Miller, Brielle Junda (2 for 2) and Victoria LoPinto had hits in the inning.

"It was chain reactions," Miller said. "If one hits, the other hit. We feed off one another's energy."

"We pride ourselves on quality at bats and not wasting them," Galioto said. "We try to keep the girls focused. I don't rest and they aren't allowed to either."

Greg Cleary, Parsippany's coach, noted that his squad's season has been "a bit of a roller coaster, Hanover Park included."

"The teams that stay consistent, on an even keel, like Hanover Park, are successful," Cleary said. "We allowed baserunners and walks and it caught up to us. This is good for the younger players. We'll see how they respond next season."

He was glad there was a late bid to score some runs, of course.

"I'm not surprised that we came back a little," Cleary said. "We've done it all year. Just when you think we're out of it, we show some life."

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Homer sends Mt. Olive into final

MOUNT OLIVE _ Annalee Smith was seeking redemption for herself and Mount Olive.

Last year's result against Ridgewood was still weighing heavily on the mind of Smith, the Marauders' catcher, when she stepped to the plate to open the bottom of the sixth inning with the score tied, 3-3, in a North Jersey Section 1, Group IV semifinal. All she wanted was to get on base.

Smith looked over the first pitch, a ball, before homering over the fence in right field. The home run, Smith's first in 48 games, more than fulfilled her wish, sending the third-seeded Marauders to a 4-3 victory over the No. 7 Marauders on Friday, May 25.

"I was looking for something to barrel up on," said Smith, Mount Olive's cleanup hitter. "I wanted to get someone in scoring position and create an opportunity for our team. We lost 9-2 to Ridgewood (in the first round of the state tournament in 2017). That one really hurt."

Ridgewood triumphed in short order last season, laying down 16 bunts. The Marauders committed four errors and managed only four hits and made a quick exit from the state tourney. The homer was unexpected, although Smith did have one versus Morris Catholic in a preseason scrimmage and five as a freshman and sophomore. This blast, however, had great significance because it alleviated the sting of the seven-run setback and the incessant bunting as well as earned Mount Olive a berth in the sectional final opposite Livingston on Tuesday.

"Annalee has been a line-drive hitter," Mount Olive coach Bill Romano said. "She gets gap hits and always comes up big when we need her. For four years, she's been a rock behind home plate."

Three weeks ago, Smith had the game-winning hit in the bottom of the eighth inning of a Morris County Tournament semifinal against Randolph, sending the Marauders to the title game for the first time since 2008. It has also been a decade since Mount Olive (19-5) has played for a sectional championship.

Over the last three seasons, the Marauders have clashed with Ridgewood in the states. In 2016, Mount Olive's win was equally dramatic. Alyssa Borozan slugged a two-run homer in the ninth inning of a quarterfinal, sending the Marauders past the Maroons, 2-1. The date of that victory was the same: May 25.

Mount Olive led, 3-2, in the current game until the top of the sixth when Ridgewood scored on Kiera Boucher's base hit. The next batter, Chloe Lennon, doubled to right-center field. Right fielder Alyssa Segnello fielded the ball and fired to shortstop Lindsay Walter. The relay concluded with Walter throwing to Smith, who applied the tag at home.

"That play was huge," Romano said. "It got everyone riled up. That was great defense. They settled down finally."

Smith, whose previous home run was on May 18, 2016 against Mendham, quickly shed her catcher's gear after the excellent defensive play, took a few swings and walked to the batter's box.

"It was funny that I was getting up to bat and the Ridgewood coach (Patti Auger) said 'All left side,'" Smith recalled. "It was kind of shocking that the ball went to right field. I'm usually up the middle or to the left."

Junior designated player Kaitlin Pettenger also was critical to Mount Olive's attack, knocking in a pair of runs in the three-run third inning with a double to left-center field off a 1-2 pitch. Julia Chang doubled and Walter singled and stole second base before Pettenger's at-bat.

Pettenger, a first baseman or left fielder when not the DP, had swung a hot bat of late, going 12 for 20 with nine RBIs and four walks over the Marauders' last six games.

"I knew I had to get runners in," Pettenger said. "I stuck to mechanics. I kept my cool and did what I know how to do best. I've been hitting well and that's good for the team. I've been focusing on the ball and trying to get everything out of my head."

Romano noted that Pettenger, unfazed by pressure situations, is a team player and is "hitting the best out of anyone."

"Kaitlin does whatever I ask her to do," he said. "I can't take her out of the lineup. She's been hitting the ball really, really well."

Borozan, a senior pitcher, has been effective in the circle and was solid against Ridgewood, yielding four hits and striking out seven. The Maroons reached her for two runs in the second inning. Errors played a role. Beginning with the last out of the second inning, Borozan retired 10 in a row.

Now, Mount Olive will vie for a sectional title.

"This is definitely an amazing feeling," Pettenger said. "We've never been there before. Ridgewood has been a struggle for us, especially when they bunt. It's so good to beat them."

"We just had to play our game," Smith said. "This could have been the last one. We said 'We've got this.' It's my senior year so it's really great."

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Torch went short in quest for 100 hits

MOUNTAIN LAKES _ The Mountain Lakes softball team was winless when Jessica Torch was a freshman in the spring of 2015.

The Lakers posted two victories a year later and four during Torch's junior year.

Through it all of Mountain Lakes' struggles, Torch kept hitting.

On April 26 versus Villa Walsh, Torch, the senior shortstop who resides atop the Lakers' order, rapped out two hits, including the 100th of her career - a drag bunt - and scored the decisive run when Mountain Lakes recorded a 2-0 shutout in eight innings.

"We needed baserunners. It was 0-0 in the top of the eighth," Torch said. "I hit a bunt down the third base line. It felt good to get my 100th hit, especially because we ended up winning. Scoring the winning run made it 100 times better. And to win in extra innings was really, really good."

Torch is headed to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where she will major in mechanical engineering and play softball. She perfected her slapping and bunting under the tutelage of Bob Pigozzi at Frozen Ropes in Pine Brook and her father, Joseph, whom she credits with changing her from righty to lefty.

As she accumulated hits, she began to realize that 100 was within reach.

"I always wanted to get it once I realized 100 hits was a significant milestone," Torch said. "We played against other teams when girls got 100 hits. It became a goal of mine. It seemed cool."

More important than personal goals has been the team's progress during her tenure. The Lakers, eyeing .500, came close, finishing 10-12 this spring. They won three of their last four games. During a seven-game stretch from April 24 through May 8, Mountain Lakes went 5-2.

"We've improved so much," Torch said after a game against Boonton on May 14. "The team has worked hard and gotten better and better."

Mountain Lakes coach Alison Preston noted that Torch, who had at least one hit in every game this season, always swung a reliable bat, not matter what the circumstances.

"For three years, Jess played on a weak team," Preston noted. "She didn't get as many at-bats as some of the other players who got 100 hits. She loves to slap and has been a great bunter. Jess is a strong all-around player."

Three times as a senior, Torch had four hits. She concluded her career with 115 hits.

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Knolls falls to Ridgewood

DENVILLE _ The first four innings, all 1-2-3, were the best all season by Morris Knolls pitcher Kayla Turcios.

Turcios, a sophomore right-hander, obviously, did not give up a hit for the majority of the North Jersey Section 1, Group IV quarterfinal. The Golden Eagles scored a first-inning run and, for awhile, it certainly seemed like it might just be enough.

Ridgewood broke through for a single in the fifth inning and Turcios gave up a walk. Those runners were left on and Morris Knolls was able to cling to its slim lead.

In the sixth inning, however, the Maroons sent nine batters to the plate, capitalizing on bunts, and produced all of their runs en route to a 5-1 win over second-seeded Morris Knolls on Wednesday, May 23.

"Our pitcher was doing a great job," Golden Eagles coach Keith Heinemann said. "She had a one-hitter going into the sixth inning then all of the stuff happened. The first three or four innings were her best this season. Kayla pitched well and we were making our plays."

Seventh-seeded Ridgewood went into small-ball mode in the sixth inning, ruining the day for Turcios and unnerving Morris Knolls (15-8). No. 9 batter Lizzie Weston, the catcher, got the inning started with a single to left field. Payton Angus followed with a sacrifice bunt. Kristen Yee laid down a bunt single. A double steal, two overthrows, suicide squeezes by Alli Olsen and Kiera Boucher, Chloe Lennon's groundout and Frankie Barbera's base hit ensued, providing the Maroons with a four-run advantage.

Morris Knolls, which rapped out six hits, had a baserunner in each of its last two at-bats but was unable to produce any more runs.

"We were a little overanxious at the plate at the beginning," Ridgewood coach Patti Auger said. "We were swinging at high pitches. We hit floaters and too many groundballs. Nothing was sharply hit. We got the hits from Lizzie and Payton and kept putting the ball in play. We were trying to put pressure on their defense."

The victory enabled the Maroons, who will meet third-seeded Mount Olive in the sectional semifinals, to rebound from a tough loss to Immaculate Heart in a Bergen County Tournament quarterfinal on Sunday. Ridgewood was no hit by Ryleigh White (9 strikeouts).

"That was difficult," Auger said. "Today, the girls showed they can come back. They righted the ship. Our defense made the plays to back Lizzie (Hannafey) and that gave us a chance."

Heinemann has become quite familiar with Ridgewood over the years. He figured the Maroons would bunt.

"Ridgewood played hard. We didn't make the plays when they mattered," he said. "Ridgewood got into what it does best. They played small ball and used their speed. They did what they had to do. We weren't able to put pressure on them. We didn't get things going offensively. We didn't put things together."

Morris Knolls has three seniors on its roster and has had to endure some growing pains. The majority of the lineup is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. The Golden Eagles' season concludes on Saturday, May 26 with a game versus Mount St. Dominic.

"Hopefully, we're going to learn from this," Heinemann said.

Kayla Hua had two hits for Morris Knolls. Danica Lee and Morgan DeLoreto had a hit apiece. Meaghan Thompson doubled for the Golden Eagles.

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Kneppel wins three events; Rams are top team

BOONTON _ Butler's Rebecca Kneppel never objected to being labeled "the fast girl."

Everyone always noticed Kneppel's speed when she played soccer and basketball. However, there was little else, she said, that made her a consistent asset on the field and court.

"I had OK skills," she said. "Nothing notable."

So, Kneppel played one year of basketball in high school and dropped it. She took part in soccer as a freshman and sophomore then left it behind, too. The latter is exactly what Kneppel does on the track: Leave everyone behind.

Kneppel, a junior, turned in a superb showing at the Morris County Track and Field Championships on May 16 and 17 at Boonton High School, finishing first in the 100, 200 and 400 meters. She garnered gold in the 100 and 400 in the heavy rain on the first day of the meet and prevailed in the 200 meters on the second day.

Randolph scored 107 points to repeat as team champion. It was the fifth title in 10 years for the Rams. In second place was West Morris with 50 points.

Winning a trio of events was a great accomplishment for Kneppel, who also participated in the 4x100.

"According to the times, I was supposed to get first," she said. "Overall, it was a good meet. I was sort of surprised. It was encouraging to get first in three events."

Kneppel's favorite race is the 200. She was most proud of her performance in the 400 because she clocked a 57.35, shaving more than two seconds off her best time last year.

"I like the 200 because it's just the right distance," said Kneppel, who tore the meniscus in her knee while playing soccer as a sophomore. "The 400 hurts a lot. I hit a wall. It hurts when I try to run through it. The 100 is short and sweet but I'm still accelerating. I feel like I have more."

She certainly hopes she has more. Kneppel's goal is to take her successful season to the limit.

Morris Catholic's Kate McAndrew, also a junior, was atop the pack in the 800 with a time of 2:15.27 and took her first outdoor title. McAndrew was also second in the 1,600 meters to Randolph's Abby Loveys.

"I wanted to get out fast," McAndrew said. "I'm usually behind. I like to catch people. Today, I led and kept the pace up."

McAndrew's strategy typically is to stay with the leader then outkick her. She was the fastest seed coming in and wanted the fastest time. Last winter, at the indoor championships, McAndrew claimed the 1,000 meters.

"I'm excited," she said. "There's so much good competition here."

Kathryn Brown of Kinnelon had a PR  and set a school record in the long jump, leaping 17-6.25. Brown was second to Kayley Moran of Morris Hills in the 400 hurdles, fourth in the triple jump and fifth in the high hurdles, establishing another school record.

"It's exciting and a little surprising," Brown said. "I'm grateful for the opportunity. I did the long jump in the rain on Wednesday and to do what I did... My best jump was my last one. After I did it, I knew it was big. My coach (Joe Illenye) knew it, too. It was all definitely worth it."

Brown deemed competing in the rain as "pretty gross." The sand stuck to her everywhere, including her arms, making putting on a jacket uncomfortable.

"There was so much sand," Brown said. "As a jumper, I have to embrace the sand."

Loveys of Randolph prevailed in the 1,600 and 3,200. Karen Hull of Randolph won the intermediate hurdles. Meghan O'Malley was another gold medal winner for the Rams, capturing the high jump. Makayla Taylor added to Randolph's total with the top throw in the discus.

Montville had a pair of winners in Alicia Gupte (triple jump) and Blythe Hehmeyer (pole vault). Whippany Park's Shannon Ziccarello was first in javelin. Kayla Morgan of Morristown garnered gold in the shot put. West Morris topped the field in the 4x400.

http://www.mctrack.org/MCTCAST/18ST/18MorrisCountyChampsSTg.htm

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Zannelli's three RBIs key for Lakers

MOUNTAIN LAKES _ Nikki Zannelli has a hit in every game but one this season yet Mountain Lakes' junior second baseman considered herself in a slump going into the Lakers' game against Boonton.

Zannelli felt something was amiss and that led to her being videotaped by Mountain Lakes coach Alison Preston.

"Going into our game on Friday, Nikki said 'I don't know what's wrong. I can't hit,'" Preston recalled.

The videotape revealed that Zannelli wasn't tracking the ball. Her head was in but her eyes weren't following the pitch.

However, after the Lakers' 7-5 victory over Boonton on Monday, May 14, Zannelli, who went 2 for 4 with three RBIs, was satisfied. One of her hits, a triple, provided Mountain Lakes with its first run in the third inning. She also had a two-run base hit in the bottom of the fifth inning to put the Lakers in front, 7-4.

"My hitting has been pretty bad," said Zannelli. "It's been a mix of everything. Sometimes, it goes my way. Sometimes, not. I just wanted to hit well today."

And she obviously did. Each time Zannelli, an EMT with an interest in pursuing a career in the field of medicine in the future, went to the plate, Preston reminded her to keep her eyes on the ball. Teammate Julia Matalon, the right fielder, did the tosses while Zannelli hit into a net prior to the game and sensed that she was going to have a big day.

"Nikki was hitting really well," Matalon said. "I was rooting for her to knock over the net."

The two-hit effort boosted Zannelli's season total to 25. She has 22 RBIs.

Boonton went up 3-0 in the second inning on Sophie Reed's sacrifice fly, Merissa Runfeldt's RBI single and Ailina Dauti's sacrifice fly. Freshman Jordyn Serchio went the first five innings for Boonton before senior ace Katie Preston stepped in and finished.

Mountain Lakes (8-11) got two runs in the third inning on an error, Zannelli's RBI triple and Jenna Stickley's run-producing base hit. In the fifth, the Bombers pulled ahead, 4-2, when Reed doubled to the fence in left field and scored on an error.

In the lower half of the fifth, the Lakers pulled even, 4-4, courtesy of Lea Credidio's two-run single.

The sixth inning, in which Mountain Lakes scored three runs, featured a two-run base hit by Zannelli. Leadoff batter Jess Torch, who recently got her 100th career hit, plated what proved to be the winning run with a bunt. Boonton posted its last run in the top of the seventh inning on Michelle Becker's single. Sydney Dolan opened the inning with a single to shallow right field - her third hit of the game - and moved to second on a groundout before Becker lashed her base hit.

"We couldn't hit the first pitcher. She was crafty," Boonton coach Jim Drury said. "We scored when we had runners on but didn't get other hits. Mountain Lakes had timely hitting."

With the win, the Lakers doubled the amount of victories they had last season. That was an important milestone for a team that has struggled in recent years.

"We've had our ups and downs," Zannelli said. "We're not getting mercied anymore. We're always in the games."

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***

 

Hornets hang on, gain MCT title

ROXBURY _ Hanover Park pitcher Jessica Miller squeezed the popup in her mitt, exhaled and spiked the ball into the infield dirt.

Finally, it was over.

Miller's stomach turned many times in the top of the seventh inning when Mount Olive cut into the Hornets' once-substantial lead. Eleven batters took their turns at the plate. Five runs scored but fifth-seeded Hanover Park held on for a 9-7 victory over the sixth-seeded Marauders at Landing Park to garner their first Morris County Tournament title in 39 years.

"All of the frustration and excitement just came out," said Miller of the celebratory spike. "I was sick to my stomach. Very nervous. That was a long inning."

It certainly was. Mount Olive, motivated after being called for interference with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning, played with a vengeance the rest of the way. Down 9-2 going into the top of the seventh, Kaitlin Pettenger lashed an RBI double. Two errant throws enabled two runs to score. A bases-loaded walk by the typically composed and under control Miller made it 9-6. Alyssa Segnello added a run-producing base hit.

"Even if they tied us, we still had the chance to go up and hit," said Miller, who took MVP honors. "We had to buckle down and get the outs. We did it and now we can look up and see 2018 next to 1979 on the banner in the gym. This is very, very exciting."

Jamie Galioto attributed the shaky conclusion to his squad's youth. Miller and Amy Petrovich, the second baseman, are the only seniors in the starting lineup. The seven others are sophomores. When Galioto went out to talk to his players in the seventh inning, he told them they "were going down as some of the greatest in Hanover Park history."

"I wanted them to get the last out and cement it," Galioto said. "They're a great collection of athletes. They just had to get it done. We knew we may have an inning like this. Things happen. Fortunately, we have Amy to calm everyone and Jess to make the pitches."

Miller hasn't only been effective in the circle. She doubled to left-center field to open the second for Hanover Park. After a sac hunt by Dara DiMaiolo, Miller scored on Gianna Tito’s fielder’s choice. Mount Olive tied it in the top of the third on an infield error.

In the third, Hanover Park received two-run home runs to center field from Petrovich and DiMaiolo. Victoria Lopinto’s double preceded Petrovich’s homer. Nicole Miller doubled before DiMaiolo connected. The home run was DiMaiolo's third this season.

"I was looking for a certain pitch and I got one right down the middle," DiMaiolo said. "It was a little low. It was right there."

The Hornets sent their lead to 9-1 in the fourth on three hits, two errors and a wild pitch. Nicole Miller and Victoria Lupo drove in runs with base hits. If not for sliding catches by Alyssa Segnello and Julia Chang in the shallow outfield, the Hornets would’ve had more base runners.

Some of Hanover Park's offensive prowess comes from hitting in the dark with the lights off. The Hornets hit baseballs instead of softballs. This is all in preparation for night games.

On the way out of the gym after their last hitting session, the Hanover Park players found a dead hornet on the floor. They named it Hillary, put it in a cup and brought it to the MCT final. Forty minutes after the end of the championship game, Galioto and the Hornets took the insect out to the infield and buried it.

"We bury our dead like on the Walking Dead," Galioto said. "It'll be there for future trips to this field."

DiMaiolo was thrilled by the MCT title. Postgame, the Hornets posed for photos and huddled with several members of the Mount Olive team.

"We choked a little bit at the end," DiMaiolo said. "We got tense. We had to find a way to win. Many of us have been together since travel ball. Once we got the lead, we had to keep going. It's never done. It's never over."

That was evident in Hanover Park's first-round MCT game versus Madison. The Hornets trailed 6-3 going into the seventh inning but put across four runs in the top of the seventh to advance. Had they not come through, there would have been no MCT crown.

"That was stressful, too," Jessica Miller recalled. "We got the momentum. We didn't want it to go to the very last inning."

Miller leads Hornets into MCT final

ROXBURY _ It clearly wasn't Jenna Devens' night and that pained Hanover Park's senior ace Jess Miller.

"I'd be terrified to be in this position as a freshman," Miller said of Devens, Parsippany's first-year pitcher who was making her debut in the Morris County Tournament semifinals. "It's a lot. I felt bad. I guess we all have our days."

Although it wasn't Devens' day, the MCT semi was certainly one to remember for Miller, who had three hits, including two home runs, and fired a four-hitter to highlight Hanover Park's surprising 21-1 win over top-seeded and defending champion Parsippany on Saturday, May 5 at Landing Park.

Miller's first hit, a single to left-center field in the first inning, was the 100th of her career. And, the evening only got better as she slugged home runs to left field in the second and fourth innings. She had hoped to reach the milestone against Morristown-Beard on Thursday but went hitless in two at-bats. She said she didn't see the ball well and may have been overanxious.

"I had 99 hits and I knew it," Miller said. "That made it a little nervewracking. Seeing everyone get on raised my spirits. It was definitely nice to get my 100th hit."

Never had Miller had two homers in a game. She said the rarity led her to feel "euphoria and so much happiness."

The fifth-seeded Hornets racked up five runs in the first inning as 11 players took their turns in the batter's box. A bases-loaded walk and an error gave Hanover Park its first two runs. A wild pitch and a hit batsman accounted for two more runs. No doubt, Devens, was off and likely nervous. Miller took note.

"I saw that the strike one was pretty tight," said Miller, who finished with two strikeouts and was backed by errorless defense. "I needed to be careful and hit my spots."

The 21 runs Hanover Park scored over five innings were astounding considering it was beaten by the Red Hawks, 6-4, in an NJAC-Liberty Division game earlier this season. Parsippany led, 6-0, in the middle of the fifth inning in that matchup. Hanover Park pushed across all of its runs in the bottom of the fifth and lost, 6-4.

"I know every one of our girls, one through nine, can hit," Hornets coach Jamie Galioto said. "Everyone can play well. I just told them to enjoy the night and the atmosphere. I wanted them to have the time of their lives, be very loose and to play ball."

The third and fifth innings were big ones for Hanover Park, slated to take on Mount Olive in Wednesday's MCT final, also at Landing Park, at 7 p.m. Amy Petrovich's two-run single highlighted the six-run third. The fifth featured Aryana Galioto's triple to center field which knocked in two runs.

Several players had multiple hits and/or RBIs for the Hornets. Nicole Miller, who bats in the fourth spot, had three hits, a walk and four RBIs. Dara DiMaiolo had two hits and drove in two runs. Victoria LoPinto contributed a hit and two RBIs. Gianna Tito added two hits and two RBIs. 

Parsippany's lone run was scored on Gabby Gennarelli's sacrifice fly in the third inning. Claudia Bennett led off that inning with a double and scored on the sac fly. A 4-6-3 double play ended the inning and squashed further opportunities. Miller and Hanover Park put down the side in order in the fourth and fifth innings.

Julia Vincent had two hits and a stolen base for Parsippany, which will meet Hanover Park again on Monday, May 7 in a key conference game.

"Hanover Park is a well-coached and well-prepared team with a lot of ability and they were clicking on all cylinders," Parsippany coach Greg Cleary said. "We are obviously capable of playing a lot better than we did and we have a few more weeks to make that happen."

In the final, the Hornets (16-5) will be looking to break a lengthy spell without a title. Hanover Park captured its only MCT championships in 1978 and 1979 under Edie Stitt.

"We'll keep working hard," Miller said. "We can pull it out. We need just one more run than the other team."

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