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.
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."
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- Published in Little League