ROXBURY _ Parsippany had good reason to revel in its Morris County Tournament semifinal victory over Pequannock.
It was a momentous occasion, considering the Red Hawks had not been to the Final Four since 1986, the same year they advanced to their only MCT final.
Winning pitcher Caitlin Brennan, who dazzled with a two-hitter and five strikeouts in the 7-1 win over the Golden Panthers on Monday, May 8 at Landing Park, was beaming and jovial and considered the triumph "a milestone."
Alivia Mercuro, Parsippany's third baseman, knew their ace, although in the zone from the first pitch to the last, was hurting. Missing from the Red Hawks fan section was Brennan's father, Dermot, a Navy Petty Officer First Class, who left on Saturday for a 10-month deployment that will ultimately take him to Africa.
"Caitlin was trying to be a good sport about it," Mercuro said. "She was sad but made no excuses. She didn't show it. Caitlin was being a good teammate."
Brennan, a senior right-hander, said that she was playing for her dad. Every pitch she threw seemed to have a little more purpose. Brennan, throwing an effective screwball, was in complete control, limiting the third-seeded Golden Panthers, who shut out Parsippany 3-0 on April 15, to a pair of hits, one an RBI single by Juliette Davis in the fourth inning, the other a base hit by Val Florio to start the sixth. She put down the first nine batters in order and struck out the side in the third.
Her teammates supported her with an eight-hit attack. Meg Leitner had two hits, including a double, and knocked in two runs for the Red Hawks (14-5). The three-run third inning featured Leitner's double to center field off a first pitch and RBI base hits by Gabby Gennarelli and Claudia Bennett. Wild pitches and Julia Vincent's RBI single accounted for three more runs.
"I'm doing it for him," Brennan said of her father. "He's hard on me and tells me when I'm letting up. Because my father's unable to be here, I want to win for him."
One of the last games Dermot Brennan saw Caitlin pitch in before departing was a MCT quarterfinal versus second-seeded Jefferson. Caitlin had not beaten the Falcons in her career. Parsippany fell, 8-4, 10-3, and, worst of all, 15-2, when the younger Brennan was a sophomore. Not only did Caitlin turn in a gritty pitching performance but she drove in two runs in the top of the seventh inning.
"The Jefferson game was a huge breakthrough for Caitlin," Parsippany coach Greg Cleary said. "She needed to get rid of some demons and she did. She's really grown up since freshman year."
Raising her mental game has been an important factor. Difficult situations sometimes brought out the worst in Brennan.
"If you don't have the mental game, you'll fall apart," Brennan said. "Coach Cleary helped me with that. He told me I backtracked recently when I got upset with the umps. I had to fix that. If your head isn't screwed on right, you have no chance. I try not to be bothered anymore."
Leitner, the No. 3 batter, indicated that the Red Hawks, who prevailed with Chris Froehlich Appel, the standout hurler from 1986 in attendance, were "looking to get revenge and make history."
"We're capable of big things," Leitner said. "We just need to put it into action."
She was impressed by Brennan, noting "she's gotten stronger."
"Caitlin shakes things off easier," Leitner said. "When she's on, she's on. When she's got a goal, nothing can stop her."
Mercuro played a major role with her fine defensive play at third, making seven outs. For the first out of the fifth inning, Mercuro handled a hard-hit line drive. She was most proud of her sixth-inning double play. Pequannock had a runner on first. Mercuro nabbed a soft popup and threw to first on the run, catching the runner off base.
"I had more plays in this game than I've had all season," Mercuro said. "I had two or three before tonight. We practiced throwing on the run and I got to do it. After the game, my mom (Ann Berdetta) asked me if I was the Great Wall of China."
Brennan said another trip to the final was long overdue. Another shot at the MCT crown has the Red Hawks elated. Thirty one years ago, Mendham denied Parsippany the championship.
"We couldn't let down our school, our principal, our coach," she said. "We get a lot of support from our fans. We're the seventh seed so people underestimated us but we're here to win."
Pequannock had a very uncharacteristic game in all ways - too many walks, errors and wild pitches and little offensive firepower.
"We didn't play well," Pequannock coach Maryann Goodwin said. "We picked a bad day not to play well. Parsippany wanted it more. We won 3-0 earlier this season. It was tough to get motivated."
Morris Knolls 10, Chatham 0
In the second game, top-seeded Morris Knolls (16-2) blanked fourth-seeded Chatham 10-0 in five innings behind Brooke Wiarda's no-hitter and Melissa Ackerman's four RBIs.
"I thought we played well in all phases of the game," Golden Eagles coach Keith Heinemann said. "Chatham knocked us out last year in the quarterfinals and they're a veteran team so we had to be ready. Melissa had big hits and Brooke pitched great. Our goal is not the semifinals. It's to win in the final."
The Golden Eagles sent 11 batters to the plate in the fourth inning and erupted for six runs, pushing their lead to 9-0. Carley Mahan, a freshman, and Meghan Thompson had RBI base hits and Ackerman slugged a bases-loaded double to highlight the outburst.
"This is awesome," Ackerman said. "We lost 1-0 to Chatham last year so it's a lot better to win."
Ackerman said she went to the batter's box in the sixth inning when the bases were loaded and treated it as an ordinary at-bat.
"The bases being loaded didn't bother me," Ackerman explained. "I wanted to get up there and do what I do at the plate. Anything to get runs in."
The MCT final is scheduled for Wednesday, May 10 at 7 p.m. at Landing Park.
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