FAIR LAWN _ Right fielder Jess Heitmann settled in under the fly ball in right field, caught it then raced to the infield to join her teammates and revel in the sectional title victory Morris Knolls had waited three years for.
"This is great. I felt really confident today," Heitmann said of the Golden Eagles' 8-2 win over Fair Lawn that enabled them to hoist the North Jersey Section 1, Group IV trophy after being denied in 2015 and 2016. "Our team had a lot of energy and had momentum for the whole game. I didn't think it'd be so much so early. I figured it'd be closer."
But it wasn't. Morris Knolls (24-4) took a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Melissa Ackerman, its No. 3 batter, stepped to the plate and slugged a two-run homer. Heitmann stroked an RBI single in the second inning. In the third inning, Breanna O'Shea doubled to the fence in right center field knocking in two more runs and putting the Golden Eagles up, 5-0.
Getting the job done was of the utmost importance to Morris Knolls, which fell to Livingston in last year's sectional final and to Ridgewood two years ago. The Golden Eagles, who have clashed for top sectional honors for four consecutive years, shut out Roxbury in 2014 in the championship game.
"It's good to finally win this after not getting the outcomes we wanted," Morris Knolls coach Keith Heinemann said. "These seniors were freshmen when we got the last one. We hit the ball well and Brooke (Wiarda) pitched well. We wanted to be patient at the plate and not chase anything. This is awesome. Fair Lawn is a dangerous team. They beat IHA twice this season."
Nothing, apparently, was going to stop Morris Knolls, which rapped out 14 hits, three apiece by O'Shea and Ackerman and two by C.J. Shaw, in its quest. The Golden Eagles chased Fair Lawn ace Alyssa Schmidt in the third inning after O'Shea's double. Brooke Wiarda was solid in the circle for Morris Knolls, yielding six hits and striking out 10.
"This is great," said O'Shea, the left fielder. "We worked so hard. I knew we could hit her. We were prepared. I gave my all. We gave our all. We knew what to do. We've been here before."
For O'Shea, who has been playing softball since the age of 5, the state tournament run will be her last. She's heading off to Florida Gulf Coast, where she will major in math. O'Shea will not don a uniform in college.
Wiarda, a senior righty, was sharp, holding Fair Lawn down by "hitting my spots and spinning the ball." Her drop curve and changeup were her most effective pitches. Wiarda recalled the 2014 sectional title game. She had been on the freshman team but was called up to varsity for the state tourney.
"I got to watch," she said. "It was fun. Back then, we looked to other people to get things done. Now, we're doing it. I'm like 'I've got this.'"
Fair Lawn (24-4) got its first run in the bottom of the third inning when its leadoff hitter, Danielle Jurcevic, had a two-run base hit. Jurcevic also knocked in Fair Lawn's other run with a solo home run to lead off the lower half of the sixth inning.
In the fourth inning, the hot-hitting Ackerman added on two more RBIs with a single. Morris Knolls' eighth run came across when Wiarda drew a bases-loaded walk in the fifth inning. Back-to-back-to-back singles by Morgan DeLoreto, Meaghan Thompson and O'Shea filled the bases.
Ackerman, responsible for driving in the game-winning run when Morris Knolls, whose opponent in the group semifinals will be the winner of Hunterdon Central/Bridgewater-Raritan, defeated Bloomfield in 10 innings in the semifinals, has five hits and six RBIs in her last two games.
"I've always been taught to go up and drive the ball," Ackerman said. "I just eye up a good pitch. There's no such thing as a perfect pitch. I go fishing and drive it hard. Winning today is great. You always want to be better than before, to come back stronger. After the county tournament loss (to Parsippany), we knew there were more games, another tournament."
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