BELLEVILLE _ Jess Miller remained calm and collected despite the serious threat posed by the leadoff triple.
Miller, Hanover Park's junior right-hander, worked her way out of the early second-inning trouble and cooly pitched the Hornets to a 2-1 softball victory over Verona in a non-league game on Saturday, April 22 at the Carl Corino Invitational at Clearman Field.
With the game scoreless in the top of the sixth, Hanover Park broke through with two runs on an RBI triple by Amy Petrovich and a sacrifice fly to left field by freshman shortstop Nicole Miller, Jess' sister.
In the bottom of the sixth, Verona cut its deficit to one run on a solo home run by Meghan Yeates.The Hillbillies made a bid to tie the game when a two-base error put a runner on second with one out, but Jess Miller got a strikeout and a fly ball to get out of the frame unscathed.
Verona, now 9-2, had a four-game winning streak snapped. The Hillbillies were set down in order in the seventh by Miller, who tossed a route-going five-hitter, striking out eight and walking one.
"I've gained a lot of confidence and experience the last two years and I knew I could get out of it," said Jess Miller about her crucial contribution in the circle in the second inning. "As long as it wasn't a home run and the batter (No. 5 hitter Kaitlyn Deo) was held to a three-base hit, I felt I could escape without any damage. My curve was really working well throughout the game."
Miller struck out the Nos. 6, 7 and 8 Verona hitters in order to keep the game 0-0.
Hanover Park, which has a five-game winning streak, will play 12th-seeded Roxbury, an 8-0 winner over 21st-seeded Morris Tech in a Morris County Tournament preliminary-round game Saturday, in an MCT first-round game on Tuesday, April 25, in East Hanover at 4 p.m. The Hornets, the defending NJAC- Liberty Division champions, are the tournament's fifth seed.
Senior right fielder Amanda Bermel got the Hanover Park attack firing with a one-out double to right-center field in the top of the sixth and then moved to third on a wild pitch. Junior second baseman Petrovich followed with her RBI triple to straightaway center field that made it 1-0 before Nicole Miller's fly ball to left scored Petrovich.
"I just wanted to get my bat on the ball and get the run home any way I could so we could take the lead," said Petrovich, a first team NJAC-Liberty selection a year ago along with Jess Miller.
"This was a real good win for our team against a quality Verona club heading into the counties," said Bermel. "We came through with the clutch hits when we needed them and Jess made big pitches all game long just like she has done all year."
Miller now has 59 strikeouts in 54 1/3 innings pitched and has a 1.03 earned run average with four shutouts and one combined four-inning shutout.
Hanover Park has had some success recently, going 22-4 last season and winning consecutive North Jersey Section 2, Group II championships in 2012 and 2013. In 2012, the Hornets lost to eventual state champion Pequannock in the Group II semifinals and, in 2013, Hanover Park defeated Mahwah in the Group II semifinals before falling to Robbinsville in the state final.
Sophomore right-hander Christina Colon threw a strong complete game for Verona, allowing seven hits, striking out six and walking three. On the season, Colon has 120 strikeouts in 68 innings pitched with five shutouts for the Hillbillies from the Super Essex Conference's Liberty Division.
Senior Melissa Zweigbaum, the Hornet's No. 9 hitter, went 2 for 3 and almost had an RBI in the seventh. But, on her single, the Hanover Park runner on second was cut down on a perfect throw from Hillbillies sophomore left fielder Cadden Pelfree to senior catcher Yeates to keep the score at 2-1.