JEFFERSON _ Caitlin Brennan refused to be discouraged.
Instead, Brennan battled as hard as she could - both in the circle and at the plate - and, because of her tenacity under fire, Parsippany advanced to the Morris County Softball Tournament semifinals for the first time in more than three decades.
Brennan, Parsippany's gritty senior right-hander, had surrendered a run in the bottom of the sixth to Jefferson as the Falcons broke a scoreless deadlock. But Brennan kept another runner in scoring position stranded and then came through with a two-run single in the top of the seventh inning to rally Parsippany past Jefferson, 2-1, in a thrilling MCT quarterfinal on Saturday, April 29.
Seventh-seeded Parsippany (11-3) will play third-seeded Pequannock, an 8-2 victor over sixth-seeded Mount Olive on Saturday, May 6 at Landing Park in Roxbury. The other semifinal will match top-seeded Morris Knolls, a 5-1 winner over Kinnelon, against fourth-seeded Chatham, a 3-2 winner over fifth-seeded Hanover Park. The MCT final is set for Wednesday, May 10 at the same site at 7 p.m.
"I believe this is the first time since 1986 that Parsippany has advanced as far as the semifinals in the county tournament," said Red Hawks coach Greg Cleary. "I told the team today we had to be perfect and, except for maybe one play there in the sixth when they scored, we were. I couldn't be prouder. It was a truly great team effort."
For the first five innings, Brennan matched zeroes with Jefferson starter Alexa Pettit, a junior right-hander. In the top of the sixth, Parsippany mounted a threat by putting runners on first and second with one out. But junior Luisa Barone (1 for 3), who hit the ball hard in all three at-bats, lined into a double play with junior Alyson Hine making a good grab at shortstop to start the twin killing.
Second-seeded Jefferson (11-5) then took a 1-0 advantage in the bottom of the sixth on a leadoff single by sophomore center fielder Carly Wurster, a groundout that moved her to second and a wild pitch that sent her to third. She scored on an attempted squeeze bunt that was missed but, on the play, she alertly advanced to score on a passed ball.
Brennan, however, still had to deal with another runner on third base with one out - freshman designated player Kailyn Kerr, who had walked with one out, stolen second and moved to third on the passed ball that scored Wurster. But Brennan calmly worked her way out of further damage with two strikeouts to keep the count at 1-0.
"That was a very big situation right there," said Jefferson coach Nick DeGennaro. "We had a chance to make it a two-run game and that could have been a different story. Give (Brennan) all the credit. She worked out of the jam and was really tough to hit all day as was Alexa for us."
Pettit allowed four hits over 6 1/3 innings, striking out seven and walking one. Brennan, a four-year starter, tossed a masterful complete game three-hitter, striking out 11 and walking four.
Parsippany, which had beaten 26th-seeded Mountain Lakes, 10-0, in the preliminary round and then 10th-seeded Montville, 7-6, in eight innings in a first-round game on Thursday, got a big single from freshman right fielder Julia Vincent to open the top of the seventh. Vincent had fought off three two-strike pitches with foul balls before her hit into center field.
Junior left fielder Claudia Bennett followed with a sacrifice bunt and Bennett also reached safely on an error on the same play to put runners on first and second with nobody out. Then freshman first baseman Gabriella Gennarelli followed with a well-placed sacrifice bunt to put runners on second and third with one out. Brennan then came through with her clutch two-run single - scoring Vincent and Bennett - to give the Red Hawks a 2-1 lead.
"I always had confidence we would find a way to wih. That's what this team does," said Brennan, who struck out the side in order in the bottom of the seventh to go out with a flourish.
"We knew we were capable of this. We were motivated. We just had to go out on the field and prove it. It's all about winning and we found a way to do that," added an elated Brennan.
Bennett also was extra happy with her team's successful come-from-behind performance.
"Whatever way I can help the team... If bunting is necessary, that is what I will do," said Bennett. "No one on this team ever gives up and you saw a good indication of that today from the way we played in the late innings. We were down by a run but we still felt very good about our chances for a comeback."
In three previous starts against Jefferson in the past three years, Brennan had struggled as Parsippany fell to the Falcons earlier this season, 8-4, on April 17, then 10-3 in another crossover Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference game a year ago and 15-2 in five innings in an MCT quarterfinal game in 2015 when she was a sophomore.
In 14 innings pitched in those three games, Brennan had allowed 26 hits and 27 earned runs, pitching to a earned run average of 14.50.
But she was much different Saturday. After retiring the first two batters of the game, she walked three in a row to load the bases but got a key strikeout to end the first inning.
"That was big right there. I really settled in after that," Brennan said. "I always had the attitude that I would find a way to get the outs. Whatever I needed to do."
Jefferson had beaten 15th-seeded Madison, 13-3, in six innings in the first round on Thursday to advance to the MCT quarterfinals.
The Falcons, who had four juniors, three sophomores and one freshman in their starting lineup, still will be a major threat in the state tournament in North Jersey Section 1, Group II and those talented underclassmen give them an opportunity to win well into the future.
Jefferson, a perennial MCT title contender, had lost to Chatham, 6-5, last year in the MCT semifinals and, two years ago, the Falcons fell to Butler, 8-2, in the MCT final.
Parsippany is also a young team as the Red Hawks had two juniors, one sophomore and four freshmen in their starting lineup. Cleary's team won the North 2, Group II championship last year and in 2015 before falling to eventual Group II state champion Ramsey two years ago and then to 2016 Group II titlist Northern Valley/Demarest in 2016.