DePaul wins the Passaic County title for the seventh straight year

For the seventh straight year, DePaul celebrated after the final out was made in the Passaic County Tournament. This time it was a 3-2 win over Passaic Valley.

LITTLE FALLS –  While DePaul started the season by winning just two of its first eight games, several other teams were emerging as legitimate Passaic County Tournament title contenders and it looked like this was the year that the Spartans were finally going to get knocked off their perch. But with an experienced lineup that includes six senior starters, DePaul welcomed the adversity and banded together to climb their way back to championship form.

That was no more evident than in Monday’s Passaic County Tournament final. After having the game cancelled twice and moved to the opposing team’s home field for the third attempt, the Spartans were up to the task of doing something special. So when a talented Passaic Valley team put the tying and winning runs on base in the bottom of the seventh inning with its No. 3 and 4 batters coming to the plate, it was fitting that three of those six seniors played a huge role in making sure that the legendary championship run stayed intact.

Catcher Dominique Coiro scored a pair of runs, including the eventual game-winner. Centerfielder Nicole D’Ambrosia made a huge running catch in the seventh to save the tying run from scoring. Coiro’s battery mate, Summer Ramundo, emptied the tank and had just enough gas to induce a game-ending pop-up to short as fourth-seeded DePaul notched its seventh consecutive Passaic County title with a thrilling 3-2 triumph over second-seeded Passaic Valley in Little Falls.

“We believed in each other and left everything we had out on the field,” said Coiro. “We didn’t know what to think when we found out we were playing at PV, but we were excited to play in a county final no matter where we played it. It was just about getting through the day in school and getting it done once we got here.”

None of the three runs scored against Passaic Valley's Alyssa Bernardo were earned.

The game was an old-fashioned pitching duel early on between Ramundo and Passaic Valley right-hander Alyssa Bernardo. The Hornets’ senior kept the ball down and her defense made the plays behind her as she ripped through the Spartans’ order the first time around.

A pair of errors led to two DePaul runs in the top half of the fourth inning. A drive to right by Coiro was dropped and she hustled all the way to third. With one out, Kaitlin Cavanagh lined a single past diving Passaic Valley shortstop Taylor Hill and through the left side of the infield to put the Spartans in front. Then on a single by Gianna DiPiano, the ball was misplayed in the outfield. Cavanagh never stopped running and her headfirst slide beat the throw to the plate for a 2-0 lead.

“We gave away too many at-bats swinging at high pitches and too many extra bases with the errors we had,” said Passaic Valley head coach Kathy Hill. “We really beat ourselves today.”

With the way Ramundo was dealing it seemed that two runs would be enough. In the 2017 Passaic County final, Ramundo struck out a PCT finals record 18 West Milford batters. The hard-throwing righty had the Hornets chasing pitches up in the zone to the tune of 10 strikeouts through the first four innings.

DePaul centerfielder Nicole D'Ambrosia making the running catch that saved at least the tying run in the seventh inning.

DePaul tacked on another run in the top of the sixth. Coiro led off with a single and went to third with one out. On a hard ground ball to the left side, Coiro was looked back to third. But when the throw went to first she broke for the plate and scored easily to make it 3-0.

Through the first four innings, the Hornets showed their youth by being impatient at the plate, but as their patience improved success soon followed. They battled through numerous long at-bats over the final three innings, breaking through in the bottom half of the sixth with a pair of runs.

The Hornets had half of their six hits in the sixth inning, but it was a walk that showed their competitive spirit. Rachel Sol battled Ramundo through a 12-pitch at-bat before working a walk. Devyn DiPasquale’s single loaded the bases before Shana Donnelly followed with a single to score two runs. That not only cut the Spartans’ lead to a single run, but also put the tying run in scoring position with only one out. Ramundo dug deep to escape the jam. She notched a strikeout for the second out of the inning and forced a pop-up to freshman shortstop Laila Aponte to close out the threat.

The Hornets threatened again in their final turn at bat. With one out, Hill and Jada Rodriguez had back-to-back singles to put the tying and winning runs on base. Alex Ward then got a good rip towards the left-center gap. If the ball dropped it would have certainly scored one run; and if the two converging outfielders collided (which nearly happened), both runs may have scored on the play. D’Ambrosia got a great jump on the ball right off the bat and made a nice running grab.

“As soon as I heard the crack of the bat and the ball was coming my way I wasn’t going to let it drop,” said D’Ambrosia. “The game got really intense in those last two innings but we never got rattled. We’ve been there before and we know we’d do whatever it takes to get the job done. Even as the ball was in the air I knew no matter what that I had to get there and make the play.”

Ramundo bore down and got the final batter to pop up to Aponte at short as the DePaul seniors got to celebrate for the fourth time in as many years.

“We never doubted our ability and we had to stay confident especially against a real tough team like Passaic Valley,” said DePaul head coach Sue Parler. “It was a county final that was befitting of a final. We stayed focused and we stayed confident with every pitch. Summer kept battling and kept challenging a lineup that can really hit, making some tough pitches on full counts where we didn’t want to give them a free base.”

Ramundo allowed six hits and finished with 11 K’s to pick up the win for DePaul (11-11). Bernardo took the hard-luck loss for Passaic Valley (13-6). She allowed just three hits, had one strikeout, and did not walk a batter. All three of the runs she allowed were unearned. Rodriguez, a pair of singles, was the only player in the game to collect more than one hit. The Hornets will look to regroup later this week as the No. 3 seed in the North 1, Group 3 state sectional tournament.

After a season filled with ups and downs DePaul was once again able to hoist the trophy as the top team in Passaic County. For this group of seniors it will define the impact they have had on this program for years and likely decades to come.

“After we won the counties our freshman year we held up the number four, but our ultimate goal was to finish our senior year by holding up the number seven,” added Coiro. “This year has been a little bit different, but we all knew what the goal was once we got to the county tournament. Everyone was part of it from our coaching staff, to our underclassmen, to alumni, etc. First day of preseason our freshman year this was the goal and those goals never changed. To actually get here and win it four times is surreal. We couldn’t be more ecstatic about it.”