Big First inning propels Demarest past Waldwick

Sunday, March 7, 2017

Junior Makenzie McGrath gave up just two hits and two walks while striking out 16 in a complete game shutout as Demarest beat Waldwick, 8-0, in the opening round of the Bergen County Tournament.

DEMAREST – In the bottom of the first inning Northern Valley/Demarest showed why it is one of the top contenders in the Bergen County Softball Tournament. For the next five-and-a-half innings, Waldwick showed why it is a program that is built on a solid foundation and one with a solid future. But it was that first inning that determined the outcome of Saturday’s first round matchup.

The Norsewomen sent 12 hitters to the plate in the opening inning, seven of them got hits and seven of them scored. Although Waldwick hung in to push the game the full seven innings, it could never close the gap in the 8-0 Demarest victory that sends it into next weekend’s Round of 16. Demarest, the No. 4 seed, will play the winner the first round game between No. 13 Ridgewood and No. 20 Hasbrouck Heights, which was rescheduled for Tuesday.

“I talked to the girls today and told them that our postseason is now, it starts now and we have to elevate our game. The deeper we go, the better the teams that we are going to see are going to get, the pitching is going to be better and we have to be ready to go every game right from the first inning,” said Demarest head coach Keith Johnson. “I thought we did a good job of coming out ready today and we had the big first inning.”

Claudia Mattes got it started for the Norsewomen with a one-out infield single and the next six hitters all followed with base hits, one seemingly hit harder than the next. Makenzie McGrath, Liz Reverand, Michelle Diehl, Maddie Tredo, Braden Renke and Sam O’Donnell all reached safely and they all scored with the help of two straight errors hit by Ellen Hamlin and Mattes. When it was over, the score was 7-0 and Waldwick had a steep hill to climb against McGrath, one of the county’s top pitchers who rarely gives up multiple runs in a game let alone the seven the Warriors would have needed to get back even.

Waldwick was the No. 24 seed. It was not supposed to win, but it did compete. The Warriors could have taken the easy way out, could have let the 10-run rule get them on the bus a couple of minutes early, but instead they played the final five-and-a-half innings to a near stalemate and forged some positives out of what could have been a wasted trip across the county.

Danielle Burke had one of the two hits for Waldwick, which is now 8-5 on the season.

“Every day in practice I try to tell this team how lucky I am just to be a part of what they are doing. They are so close, they are all best friends and they are great teammates and supporters of each other,” said Waldwick head coach Mike Kilgallen. “If we could take out that first inning this game could have been different, but with the way we played after that I think these girls are starting to realize that we can be a real pain in the neck to some teams for sure.”

Waldwick had a chance of its own in its first time at bat when Danielle Burke reached on an infield single and McGrath (7 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 H, 16 K, 2 BB) issued a walk to Ashley Buschgans, but then quickly recovered to retire the next two hitters she faced to douse the only real threat she faced. McGrath retired nine hitters in a row until Sarah Armstrong drew a one-out walk in the fourth. She struck out the final two hitters of that fourth inning and all three she faced in the fifth and then struck out the side in order in the seventh to apply the finishing touches on the complete game shutout.

“That was a good lineup. It felt like they were hitting me. They fouled a lot of balls off and they made me work hard for every out,” said McGrath, a junior right-hander who was the winning pitcher in last year’s Group 2 state final. “But right now our team is in a pretty good groove and if we keep playing the way we are we can accomplish a lot of great things. Our bats are going. The bottom of our order is hitting, the top of our order is hitting, we are all picking each other up and our defense is just solid.”

Demarest (16-4), which clinched at least a share of a third straight Big North Conference – National Division title earlier this week and can win it outright on Monday with a win over Bergenfield, is indeed clicking offensively right now. Hamlin (2-for-4, 2B), McGrath (2-for-4), Reverand (2-for-4, RBI, R) and Renke (2-for-3, 2 RBI, R) all had multi-hit games for Demarest and every spot in the order accounted for the at least one in the 13-hit attack, including the No. 9 spot where Adriana Kythreotis got an at bat as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the fifth.

Junior Braden Renke had two hits and drove in two runs for Demarest, which will face either Ridgewood or Hasbrouck Heights in next weekend's Round of 16.

With two outs and the bases empty, Kythreotis, who had never homered in a varsity game before, took a healthy cut and knew right from the point of contact where the ball was heading.

“It felt it right off the bat and I kind of knew it was going out,” said Kythreotis, a senior who accounted for the only run after the first inning with a sizzling line drive that easily cleared the centerfield fence. “I don’t mind being a pinch hitter. I like hitting better than playing the field, to be honest, and as a pinch hitter you might get put into an important situation and you have to be ready to take advantage of every opportunity. You get a little nervous of course, especially today because this was a county game, but I just try to do my best with the swings I get.”

Burke and Buschgans had the two hits for Waldwick and Buschgans’ was of the extra base variety, a one out double in the top of the sixth for Waldwick, which fell to 8-5 on the season. But getting a look at a defending state champ and playing well for the most part can only help the Warriors, a Group 1 club that could certainly present some problems for opponents in the state playoffs.

“That is exactly what I am going to go talk about in our postgame meeting. We hit the ball hard a few times and we were knocking on the door a couple of times against a great pitcher that is going to play at Fordham,” said Kilgallen. “She is as good as we are going to see in Bergen County and better than anyone we will probably see in the state tournament. We can only get better from having had this experience.”

Demarest, which lost some key pieces from last year’s state championship team, has filled the gaps and is pushing to make another deep postseason run.

“From last year to this year we knew we had a lot of work to do, but once we got these kids together and learned about the personality of this team and the work ethic, I had a positive view of this season. When we went down to Florida in the preseason I could see the kind of potential we had,” said Johnson. “We still have work to do, we have room to improve. We have to keep up our focus and our energy for a full game; we can’t afford any lulls because of the competition we are going to see going forward. If we can do that, we are going to give ourselves the chance to have a lot of success."