Ramapo embracing the pressure of crunch time

Senior Sophia DelBuono scored three times as top-seeded Ramapo won its state tournament opener, 10-0 in five innings, over Paramus on Wednesday.

FRANKLIN LAKES – It is crunch time in the high school softball season. Every win ramps up the pressure and excitement and Ramapo has a lot going on this week. The Green Raiders upset second second-seeded Ramsey in the Bergen County Tournament semifinals this past weekend to earn a spot opposite IHA in the championship game and they carried a 15-game winning streak into Wednesday’s state tournament opener against Paramus.

Throw in the emotions and responsibilities associated with end of the school year and it can get to be a lot, especially for the seniors that are on the verge of a huge transition in their lives.

Or it could all be taken in stride, one last chance to make some memories in a high school uniform.

“When I think back to the first game of the season my mom said I looked very nervous and we had a talk. I am not playing in college, so she said just to go out there and have fun” said Ramapo senior Sophia DelBuono. “That is what I am doing and what we are all doing. I am just trying to hit the ball hard on the ground, advance base to base and help the team. And if I make an error in the field I know I will wake up the next day. I am really just taking it all in. I am excited for [the county final on] Saturday and I am excited to see how far we can take this.”

Ramapo did not need to take it past the minimum five innings against Paramus as Ella Saxton’s two-out single in the home half of the frame capped a five run rally and a 10-0 win that pushed the top-seeded Raiders into next week’s North 1, Group 3 state sectional quarterfinal round where they will host No. 9 Sparta, a 3-0 opening round winner over Bergenfield.

Senior Ella Saxton had three hits, including the game-ender with two outs in the fifth.

“We have a winning streak going but we don’t look at it like that. It’s one game at a time and we knew that we could not come out today and take Paramus lightly,” said Ella Saxton, the three-sport standout (tennis, basketball), who went 3-for-4 with a run scored and the game-ending RBI. “This was the third time we played Paramus, they knew what to expect from us and at this point in the season you can’t look ahead at all. If you do and you play one bad game then your season could be over.”

Paramus hung in there for the first couple of innings as starting pitcher Miranda Rivera stranded two base runners in the bottom of the first and then worked a 1-2-3 inning in the second before Ramapo took the lead for good in the home half of the third.

DelBuono (1-for-2, 3 R, 2 SB) was hit by a pitch leading off, stole second and then scored the game’s first run on Emily McCarthy’s second hit of the day, a hard shot back up the middle. McCarthy, a sophomore slap hitter finished the day a perfect 4-for-4 with 4 RBI and a run scored.

“I used to hit righty, but I switched over because I could use my speed more from the left side. I started out just bunting, but then got into slapping and it is fun. You can play tricks on the defense and try to put the ball in the gaps,” said McCarthy, Ramapo’s second baseman, who is known as Emu to her teammates. “It was a great team effort today and getting the win was the most important thing.”

Cadie Sauter had two hits for Ramapo, which will host Sparta in the North 1, Group 3 quarterfinals next week.

Ella Saxton had a run scoring double in the third inning and Cadie Sauter singled in a run and the Raiders tacked on two more in the fourth with a two-rally. With the bases empty, DelBuono, batting out of the No. 9 spot in the order, singled through the middle and LeeAnn Downey beat out a bunt single that ended with runners on second and third after Paramus threw the ball around. DelBuono scored on a wild pitch and McCarthy singled in Downey with her third hit of the game.

One third of the Ramapo lineup has the last name of Saxton. Ella is a senior and Maddie and Grace are sophomore twins and all three are three-sport athletes, throw-backs in the age of specialization. Maddie Saxton (1-for-2, R) kicked off the decisive fifth inning with a single to left. Sauter (2-for-3) then singled, Sofia Ciarlo walked and, with one out, Ava Dandeneau (1-for-3, RBI) singled in a run. McCarthy knocked in both Grace Saxton and DelBuono to put the Raiders on the brink and Ella Saxton finished it off with her two-out single.

All of that was in support of freshman Trinity Horn, who went the distance on a two-hitter for her first state tournament win. She walked just one and struck out six, which got her to the 100 K milestone in her first varsity season. Juliet Tarabocchia and Katelyn McQuaid had the hits for Paramus, which finished its season with an 8-16 record.

It’s been a season full of individual accomplishments wrapped up in team success for Ramapo. Downey passed 100 hits and runs scored for her career and Ella Saxton also picked up the 100th hit of her career this season. Next up is Ramapo’s third county final appearance in the last four years.

“We have great upper classmen, great senior leadership and we talented younger kids that have bought into what’s going on around here. Every senior class is special, but this group is our coaching staff is the first group that we have had for all four years. We have a goal for them of 100 wins in their four years and they are at 96,” said Ramapo head coach Darren White. “We have won 16 in a row now and we said after the Ramsey game that if we could we 20 straight we could hit that 100 mark and also have a couple of pieces of hardware.”