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Lagitch powers Morris Hills in another thriller

Lagitch powers Morris Hills in another thriller Photos by Sandy Seegers
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ROCKAWAY _ The players on the Morris Hills softball team were probably concerned about coach Keith Dul's mental health after his reaction to their fifth consecutive loss at the start of the season.

"Our goal is a state championship," said Dul as the dejected but not completely discouraged Scarlet Knights surrounded him in a post-game huddle on April 16.

Dul's bold statement seemed a little farfetched at the time. However, the six words set the course, as well as the tone, for the next six weeks, maybe more.

Morris Hills isn't vying for a group title yet. To meet that objective, the Scarlet Knights need to keep moving forward. On Thursday, May 30, Morris Hills took another step, registering a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over ninth-seeded Sparta in a North Jersey Section 1, Group III semifinal on another clutch hit by freshman phenom Holly Lagitch.

"These girls are on cloud nine," Dul said after the dramatic victory that propelled fifth-seeded Morris Hills into the sectional final. "We have the ability and the pitching to keep us in every game. It's their belief in what we're doing and what we're telling them. We're teaching them to win and how to compete and they've responded to everything."

Far removed from the despair that marked the beginning of the 2024 campaign, the Scarlet Knights celebrated as if they had claimed a trophy. And, rightfully so. No matter what lies ahead, this state tournament run has been special.

"We were definitely down at 0-5," said pitcher Zoe Turner, who went the distance in the circle. "We've pulled through. We have amazing seniors. I couldn't do what I do without the people around me. It's the energy of everyone. It's a great environment. It's confidence."

Just like that, the woeful beginning didn't seem that bad.

"It really wasn't that ugly," Turner said. "We had a few losses by one run."

Obviously, the outcomes have been markedly different of late. The victory over Sparta was another thriller, one in which the Scarlet Knights put across two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. The lower half of the seventh began with a spectacular diving catch in right field by the Spartans' Kiernan Moore, who subbed in an inning earlier. Spirits may have sunk but it wasn't over yet.

An error ensued. Turner, the leadoff batter, then hustled for an infield single and stole second to put runners at second and third. Lagitch, who walked twice and struck out in her previous at-bats, stepped to the plate and the count quickly went to 1-2. More anxiety. She bit into the fourth pitch of her at-bat and the ball landed just inside the right-field line, scoring the tying and decisive runs. A euphoric celebration ensued.

"It was two strikes. I didn't do anything earlier," said Lagitch, the shortstop and a three-sport athlete."I was trying to be confident. I was very stressed. We practice a lot and that helps in these situations."

Two days earlier, Lagitch also drove in the gamewinning run in the bottom of the seventh. Morris Hills did all of its scoring in the last two innings to edge Montville, 3-2.

"Holly is a freak athlete and the most humble kid around," Dul said. "She's as sweet as pie, a gem of a kid. Holly's an incredible softball player. She leads our team in hits and extra base hits. Holly's a program builder. There'll be a lot of accolades for her in her four years here."

In addition to Lagitch's excellent showing at the plate, she has been equally exceptional in the field. Versus Sparta, she was involved in two double plays.

On Saturday, June 1, Morris Hills (15-12) will clash with second-seeded Morris Knolls, its sister school, at 11 a.m. for top honors in the section.

Morris Knolls triumphed 13-1 on April 20 in the only other meeting between the two schools this season.

The Scarlet Knights, under the guidance of Bill Nieman, had a 29-2 record and were Group II and Morris County Tournament champions in 1997. Morris Hills, with four freshmen and a sophomore in the starting lineup, advanced to the Group III final in 2001 and suffered a 4-0 loss to Cumberland.



Last modified onSaturday, 01 June 2024 10:29
Sandy Seegers

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