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Little League

"Fantastic way to end season"

LODI _ Twice in four days, Hanover was shut out by Robbinsville.

The second loss, on Sunday, July 17, stung the most because Robbinsville secured the Little League State Tournament title with a 7-0 win.

Hanover shuts out Wallington

LODI _ Prior to its losers' bracket game at the Little League State Tournament, Hanover formed a circle next to its dugout to prepare for its game against Wallington.

Manager Maria Mess got the group therapy session started then called upon each one of the players to speak. Some of the girls simply offered encouragement while other players were specific, including one who said to watch where the ball was being thrown if it got past the outfielders. Several reminded their teammates to keep believing.

  • Published in Sports

Hanover blanked in opener

LODI _ Whether down by a few runs or by a game, deficits are not a problem for the Hanover Little League Softball Team.

There were no tears and no long faces when Hanover was shut out 6-0 by Robbinsville in the opener of the state tournament on Thursday, July 14 in Lodi.Read More

It's not that the players don't care. Hanover, which managed four hits off Brynn Hopkins, knows exactly what it has to do - regroup, wake up its bats and battle out of the losers' bracket.

"It's a tough loss," Hanover first baseman Victoria Sheridan said. "We saw Robbinsville two years ago (as 9-10s) in the state tournament and we knew what we were up against. We've got to work together as a team and be more aggressive at the plate.

"We're going to fight harder because we still want it. Robbinsville wants it, too, so we have to want it more."

Hanover, obviously still motivated, takes to the field again on Friday, July 15 at 6 p.m. at the same site. Its opponent will be Swedesboro-Woolwich, an 11-7 winner over Wallington.

Hanover, which did not break through against Hopkins until the fourth inning, did not play poorly in its 2016 state tournament debut. It just took them a little time to settle in.

Leadoff batter Evelyn Dente was Hanover's first baserunner, drawing a walk in the first inning, Katie Brunner got the initial hit, doubling to right field off a first-pitch offering by Hopkins to open the lower half of the fourth. Brunner, the catcher, however, was soon put out at third and Hanover's best chance at averting a shutout was over.

In the fifth and sixth innings, Hanover had runners on but nothing materialized. Jillian Hutt, Robbinsville's right fielder, made a pair of outstanding catches, including a diving catch to end the game, to deprive Hanover and further add to its frustration.

"This has happened before," said Hanover manager Maria Mess, referring to her squad's setback in the opener. "The girls know what they need to do. We began hitting in the fourth inning. We started swinging but that's a little too late. It needs to happen from the get go."

Julia Swan, superb in the district and section tournaments, had an uncharacteristic outing. Swan yielded a double and a walk to the first batters she faced. They crossed the plate on groundouts.

Two more walks in the second inning by the usually accurate Swan hurt. Kenzie Martin singled to widen Robbinsville's lead to 3-0. In the third, a double by Hopkins and base hit by Bella Truelove produced the fourth run. Alexa Klepper's two-out, two-run double in the fourth knocked in the last two runs.

"I didn't throw my best," Swan said. "I don't think I was bending my elbow enough."

Robbinsville, the four-time defending state champion, got runners to second in each of the last two innings but they were left stranded.

"Hanover is an excellent team," Robbinsville manager Jon Iorio said. "They come to play. They're well coached. The pitcher (Swan) and third baseman (Megan Gilbert) are top shelf. (Gilbert) made some nice plays. She has a strong arm. We couldn't keep the ball away from her."

As for Hutt's defensive gems and the pitching of Hopkins, Iorio had nothing but praise.

"Jillian has been a mainstay for us," Iorio said. "She's confident and wants the ball hit to her. Brynn is a workhorse in any conditions. It was hot tonight and she came through. She's a phenomenal player with a great future."

Gilbert, who applied the tag to erase a Robbinsville player caught in a rundown, played heads-up defense. Brunner went 2 for 3. Sheridan and Alyssa Pavone had Hanover's other hits.

Hanover, runner-up to Robbinsville in the 9-10 state tournament in 2014, realizes what lies ahead and is up to the task.

"Their pitcher was good. She's got speed," Sheridan said. "We've got to relax and breathe. If we like the pitch, we have to swing at it. We can do this. We've been down and come back."


Gilbert, Brunner spark offense

RIDGEWOOD _ Outside pitches hold no appeal for Hanover's Megan Gilbert.

So when the first few offerings by Ridgewood pitcher Olivia Stoehr were wide, Gilbert figured she had no choice.Read More

"Go for it," she told herself.

Gilbert, the third baseman fond of pitches low and a little inside, extended her arms and made contact, driving in Hanover's second run in the first inning. The hits kept coming for Hanover, which blanked Ridgewood 11-0 in its second game at the Section 1 Little League Softball Tournament on Wednesday, July 6.

"Everything was outside," said Gilbert, who picked up another RBI with a sacrifice fly in the third inning. "For some reason, everyone knows I don't like outside pitches. I had to try and get it."

Katie Brunner (2 for 3, 3 runs scored) crossed the plate with Hanover's first run. Brunner was knocked in by Julia Swan.

The shutout vaulted the Hanover 12s into the Section 1 final, which is set for Saturday, July 9 at 1 p.m. at Veterans Field in Ridgewood. Hanover (2-0) will face the winner of Friday's losers' bracket game between Ridgewood and Pequannock.

"I'm excited about it," Brunner said. "I'm nervous, too. We made it so far. It would be sad to have our journey end in this tournament."

It's evident that Hanover is intent on gaining a berth in the state tournament. Swan had another exceptional all-around outing, striking out 11 in five innings and finishing with three RBIs. Hanover backed Swan with a 12-hit attack and solid defense. Brunner, the catcher, threw out a runner attempting to steal second.

"This group of girls has been together for three years between Hanover Rec and All-Stars," manager Maria Mess said. "They feed off each other and bring each other up."

The three-run third inning featured five hits. Runners came home on Gilbert's sac fly, Brynn Yacat's base hit and Swan's fielder's choice, putting Hanover up, 5-0.

Victoria Sheridan, the No. 3 batter, did her part for East Hanover, rapping out a pair of hits and driving in a run.

"We stepped up our hitting," Mess said. "We've worked hard on it. You can see it in the runs the girls are driving in."

Brunner, who came close to cutting down another runner in Hanover's 7-2 win over Pequannock on Tuesday night, got the final out of the third inning with an on-target throw to second.

"I'm just trying to catch the pitch," Brunner said. "Out of the corner of my eye, I see the runner. I always want to make the throw."

According to Gilbert, soon to be in seventh grade at Memorial Junior High School, all the incentive Hanover needed was provided by a loss to Robbinsville in the state tournament final as 9-10s.

"Losing was awful," Gilbert said. "We were so upset. We've really always wanted to get back to the state tournament."


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