May 13, 2012
By Rich Barton
NJS.com Staff Writer
Sophomore Ashley LaGuardia hugs her catcher after DePaul won its first Passaic County title since 2004 with a 9-3 victory over Lakeland in the final on Saturday.
WAYNE – The pressure of being a top seed in a county tournament is something that takes some getting used to. Every opponent that team plays is gunning for it and DePaul, this year's top seed in the Passaic County Softball Tournament, needed a huge break in the seventh inning of the semifinals on Friday to eek out a 10-inning win on Friday. That scare was over all of the pressure that was there from the time the tournament began was suddenly lifted. While the Lady Spartans were tight in their win over PV, what came out the other side less than 24 hours later was a more relaxed team ready to finish the job that has been their main goal since Day 1.
Sophomore right-hander Ashley LaGuardia got off to a hot start in the circle and her teammates rewarded her with a big fifth inning to break the game open. The Spartans took advantage of two errors to put up six runs in the frame on their way to their first Passaic County title since 2004 with a 9-3 victory over second-seeded Lakeland in the Passaic County Tournament final played on Saturday at Wayne Hills High School.
“We didn’t dodge a bullet, we dodged a cannonball against PV. We had to make sure we didn’t put ourselves in that situation again,” said DePaul head coach Sue Parler. “The semifinal was such a stressful game and I actually think that helped us coming into this game. The pressure was off and we had to focus on the fundamentals and making some adjustments when we needed to.”
LaGuardia admittedly did not have her best stuff in the semifinal win, but got her team going in the right direction in the final. She had all of her pitches working and mystified the Lancers bats all game long, striking out seven of the first nine hitters she faced.
|Nicole Mahoney's sixth inning homer accounted for all three of Lakeland's run.
“I felt really comfortable out there today and was hitting my spots early on,” said LaGuardia. “My two goals were to get ahead in the count on every batter and to remember not to throw the same pitch twice to a batter. I knew we were eventually going to hit and get some runs across. I just had to stay calm and keep throwing strikes.”
DePaul got on the scoreboard first in the bottom of the third when Abby Simmons had a two-out double and came around to score on a single by Emily Cutler for a 1-0 lead.
That lead grew exponentially in the fifth when the first two batters reached and an error loaded the bases. Simmons then brought home a run on a squeeze play. After a sac fly by Cutler, LaGuardia helped her own cause with an RBI single en route to a commanding 7-0 DePaul lead.
“It took a few innings to get the bats going, but once we made an adjustment, we started putting the ball in play and making things happen,” said Cutler, a rare lefty shortstop who will play at Division 1 Manhattan College next year. “We moved a step back away from the plate because (Lakeland starter Jen Stoll) was killing us on the inside corner. When we got some success with that, we just kept going with it.”
Lakeland got a sign of life in the top half of the sixth when Nicole Mahoney hit a three-run shot that just cleared the fence in right-center to cut the Lancers' deficit to 7-3. But it was too little, too late as LaGuardia retired the last four batters she faced, including her 13th strikeout, to end the game and touch off the celebration.
|Emily Cutler had two hits for DePaul, which took the lead for good in the third inning.
“We made some mistakes and you know a team like DePaul is going to capitalize on them,” said Lakeland head coach Laura King. “We’re disappointed in our performance today. But getting this far after having just eight wins last year shows how far how far we’ve come. We’re a young team, so hopefully we can take something from this game and use it to become better for the state tournament and for next year as well.”
LaGuardia picked up her 20th win of the season in impressive fashion for DePaul. She allowed just two hits and the home run she allowed to Mahoney was the only ball hit out of the infield against her all game. She also drove in a pair of runs, as did Cutler.
Jen Stoll, a freshman left-hander, had two walks and two strikeouts in taking the loss for Lakeland (19-3). Her cousin, Danielle Stoll, had the only other hit for the Lancers on a bunt single in the fifth.
The triumph gave Parler her second Passaic County championship but it was the first time she truly got to celebrate winning one. In the 2004 final, DePaul and top-seeded Clifton were going back and forth in a slugfest for the ages when lightning and a torrential downpour halted the game in the sixth inning with DePaul leading 8-7. The two teams huddled in the press box for nearly three hours before the field was deemed unplayable and the victory awarded to DePaul.
There were no smiles though, no celebrating, just lots of tears from athletes who wanted to settle it on the field. This time around, Parler was finally able to crack a smile and bask in the glory of winning a county title.
“It’s a great feeling, especially for these seniors who get to go out as champions,” added Parler. “I thought Ashley pitched a heck of a game and everyone else contributed in one way or another. I think we better prepared to deal with the moment after the way we won Friday’s game. We came in loose and we had fun out there, which was exactly what we had to do.”
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