UNION _ The dirt stain on the right side of Lindsey Walter's uniform stretched from chest to knee, the result of several head-first slides and representative of another all-out Mount Olive effort.
Walter's post-game face expressed sadness then a smile. There were some tears mixed in. Despite what the scoreboard at Kean University displayed at the conclusion of the Group IV title game: Hightstown 9, Mount Olive 4, Walter and her Marauder teammates felt very much like winners.
A six-game winning streak, which commenced five days after a setback to Morris Knolls in the Morris County Tournament final, was a magical journey for Mount Olive and provided it with its first opportunity to vie for a softball group championship.
"It's really been a lot of fun," said Walter, a junior shortstop/pitcher. "Our team has so much energy. We wanted this so badly. I love playing with my teammates. They're great. We don't want to let go. I, all of us, didn't want it to end."
The Marauders were stung by three errors and were left reeling after Hightstown's four-run sixth inning that featured a two-run homer to centerfield by No. 7 batter Abby Bell, a freshman catcher, and a two-out double by winning pitcher Allie Bridgman. In the top of the sixth, Mount Olive had rallied from a four-run deficit by plating three runs, two of them on Alyssa Segnello's triple to right field and trailed, 5-4.
"I was extremely hopeful when we came back in the sixth," said Segnello, a senior right fielder and quad-captain. "We've come back so many times. I thought we'd win it after that."
Bridgman, however, squashed Mount Olive's hopes in the seventh with a groundout, a strikeout and a popup.
"We beat ourselves," Marauders coach Bill Romano said. "What are you going to do? It happens. Too many errors today. That's all. We weren't charging the ball. I think we got a little too caught up (in the enormity of the game). Their home run brought us down a bit but we never gave up. The girls continued cheering and had the pitcher's back.
"I'm proud that we came back. I'm proud of what we've done this season. These kids don't quit. They keep battling. Unfortunately, a win today was not in the cards."
Walter believes the errors may have been committed because "we put so much pressure on ourselves."
Mount Olive (19-8) recorded the game's first run in the top of the third inning. Bella Salafia led off with a double off a 1-1 pitch and moved to third on a groundout. Walter, facing an 0-2 count, poked the ball to left field to drive Salafia in. Prior to that, Romano felt his players were "taking too many pitches."
"I think it was nerves mainly," Segnello said of the Marauders not being more aggressive at the plate at the start. "I tried to loosen everyone up. We finally calmed down. Their pitcher was throwing strikes and we needed to adjust."
Hightstown loaded the bases and put up four runs, two on Morgan Fleisher's double and the others on Bell's sacrifice fly and a miscue, in the lower half of the fourth inning to pull in front, 4-1. Walter took over for Mount Olive starting pitcher Anna Callahan after they were filled. Many times this spring, the Marauders have benefited from having two solid pitchers but, on this particular day, their Mercer County opponent was simply better.
The Marauders had several standout individual performances. Mount Olive's Kaitlin Pettenger had the defensive play of the game, making a diving catch in left-center field for the third out in the bottom of the first inning. Walter went 4 for 4 with two RBIs and swiped two bases. Bri Segnello rapped out two singles.
Mount Olive, of course, was sad that their season come to a halt. Many of the girls have played on travel and Babe Ruth squads together, advancing to the World Series several times.
"I'm so proud of everyone. We've been through so much together," Alyssa Segnello said. "It didn't turn out the way we wanted but we accomplished a lot. This is an amazing team. We've been together so long. The bond is unbreakable."
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