New-look Demarest improves to 2-0

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Junior Ellen Hamlin made a sparkling defensive play, had two hits and scored the game's lone run as NV/Demarest improved to 2-0 with a 1-0 win at Pascack Valley on Wednesday afternoon.

HILLSDALE – Last season was a historic one for the Northern Valley/Demarest softball program as it won its first outright state championship since 1979 when it won the Group 2 title at Kean University. What will it take to get back to those lofty heights for a second straight year?

“All I have to do is replace six starters,” joked Demarest head coach Keith Johnson.

So it is a decidedly different crew of Norsewomen that will have to forge their own path this year, but the holdovers should help smooth the transition. Back in the circle is junior Makenzie McGrath, the winning pitcher in last year’s state final, and the winning pitcher in Wednesday’s 1-0 win on the road at Pascack Valley that gave Demarest its second straight win to start the season.

“It is definitely different. We are all still getting used to each other. When we throw the ball around [the infield] it just feels different, but we are still a strong team,” said McGrath. “Besides me, we have a lot of girls that play more than one sport and we are an athletic team.”

The other two returning starters are rightfielder Michelle Diehl and junior centerfielder Ellen Hamlin, and it was she that provided the run that Demarest needed to get past Pascack Valley. Hamlin, who hit the game-deciding triple in last year’s state final, ripped a one-out double into left centerfield in the top of the fifth of the then scoreless game. It was Claudia Mattes’ responsibility then to at least move Hamlin up a base, but she did better than that with her groundball to the right side.

Pascack Valley second baseman Jackie Dehn grabbed the spinner and flipped to first for the out, but while that was happening, Hamlin never stopped and scored all the way from second base on a groundball that travelled no more than 55 feet.

Nicole Franklin had two of Pascack Valley's three hits.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to take the chance, but Johnson gave me the sign to keep running and I went for it,” said Hamlin, who did a little bit of a face plant on her head first dive to the plate. “My slide was a little rough, but the run still counts.”

That Demarest only came away with one run was a direct result of Pascack Valley’s Cara McMahon to battle. The right-hander retired six of the first seven hitters she faced before running into trouble in the top of the third.

Senior Braden Renke, who was a member of the Demarest track team last spring, but is now the starting shortstop, drew a walk to lead off the inning and Alexa Rezik got down a bunt that turned into a base hit. Hamlin then single to load the bases with no outs before McMahon got a pop-up, a line drive to right field that kept the lead runner frozen and third base and sparkling defensive play from shortstop Nicole Franklin, who made a leaping grab on Liz Reverand’s sizzling line drive to escape the jam with no damage done.

McMahon also limited Demarest’s fifth-inning rally to one run as, after giving up a single to McGrath and a double to Reverand, she induced a groundball that kept her team in the game.

The Indians are young. They have just one senior, third baseman Gayle Pinchot, in the starting lineup, and a 1-0 loss to a team that figures to be in the top handful in Bergen County, is not a discouraging result.

Claudia Mattes' groundball in the fifth inning drive in the game's lone run.

“I am very, very proud of our defense. I hope that keeps up for the rest of the season and there is no reason not to think that it will. Our offense needs to come through a little bit, but we were up against a good team, a tough pitcher and we can hold our heads high for holding that team to one run,” said Lauren Bacsik, who shares the PV head coaching duties with Judy Lucia. “We only have one senior on the field and we had such a bad preseason, we only got four games in, so we are really starting fresh with the start of the season and to hold Demarest to 1-0 in our second outing is a good sign and we think we are going to be able to surprise some people this season.”

PV’s best chance to break through was probably in the bottom of the first inning when it got a leadoff walk from Maddy Gallo and a one-out single by Franklin, but McGrath responded by striking out the next two hitters and she was tough to get anything going against the rest of the way.

After the opening frame, McGrath (7 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 H, 11 K, 1 BB) allowed just two more base runners. Bailey McNamara hit a one-out double in the fifth before Hamlin saved a run by tracking down a Julia Spadafino flyball deep in the left centerfield gap and Franklin, who had two of the Indians’ three hits, had a two-out single in the sixth but was left stranded at first.

“I threw mostly curveballs on mostly every pitch. The outside corner is hard for them to reach, so I like to stay out there and then come back in. My screwball was a little off today, so I just stayed low and outside,” said McGrath. “The hits they got were off fastballs and I give them props for that.”

So with six new starters, including two freshmen in Maddie Tredo and Reverand, Demarest is off to a 2-0 start and has plenty of room to grow.

“We will take the win right now. A couple of inches here or there and it could have been more than 1-0, but [Pascack Valley] played well, they played great defense and their shortstop made that great snag on that line drive to rob us of at least a run and probably two,” said Johnson. “I am proud of my girls. We played great defense, too. Ellen made that catch in left-center, not too many centerfielders even get to that ball and Makenzie kept them off balance. We have a lot of athletic kids that are going to get to balls, it just that we are going to have to put it together offensively.”