Lindsay Vreeland had three hits, including the sixth inning single that brought an end to Midland Park's 11-1 win over Park Ridge in the opening round of the North 1, Group 1 state sectional tournament.
PARK RIDGE – At some point the definition of “acceptable playing conditions” had to change. In the midst of the worst weather-beaten spring sports season that just about anyone can remember, Midland Park decided to lower the bar as to what constituted a good enough deal to get on a field and play a state tournament game. The Panthers, the No. 4 seed in the North 1, Group 1 state sectional tournament, agreed to give up the home field advantage they worked all season to earn for the game that was originally scheduled for Wednesday.
Midland Park accepted the offer to play on the road at No. 13 Park Ridge on Thursday at Memorial Field, which is normally used to host games below the varsity level, but also has what has become a precious commodity over the past two months…an artificial turf playing surface.
“Our field was not playable and we didn’t want to take any chances because it is supposed to rain again [on Friday]. There was a little bit of a hesitation because we wanted the home game, but they had a turf field and we really just wanted to get this game in,” said Midland Park head coach Dino Eliopoulos. “I have been coaching baseball and softball for about 15 years now and I have never seen anything like this. With the cold weather early in the spring and now all the rain, it is crazy. We were just glad to get out here and play.”
Eliopoulis was happy not just because the game was played, but also because it ended in a Midland Park victory. Even though it was inside the borders of the Borough of Park Ridge, Midland Park retained the home team advantage based on the seeds and scored three times in the bottom of the first inning to take control. The Panthers added three more runs in the third inning, a pair in the fourth and Lindsay Vreeland’s RBI single with one-out in the sixth brought an end to an 11-1 win.
Midland Park is the only team in North 1, Group 1 to advance so far as the rest of the bracket has yet to get a game in. That clears the deck for at least one decisive game against Emerson that should come in succession. The two teams were scheduled to play in the regular season on Friday to decide the league title, but instead Emerson will play Wood-Ridge in the state tournament in that slot. Should the Cavos win that one they will play Midland Park again in the state sectional quarterfinals.
“We haven’t played since Saturday and we wanted to get the first round jitters out,” said Eliopoulos. “I am glad the girls took care of business today and put the ball in play.”
Every spot in the Midland Park order reached base at least once and five Panthers finished with multi-hit games. Emma Lein (2-for-4, 2 R), Hannah Douma (4-for-4, 3 R, RBI), Leah Mercadante (3-for-4, 3 R, 2 RBI), Tess Olson (2-for-2, 3 RBI) and Vreeland (3-for-4, RBI) all contributed to the 16-hit attack and Emily Kontos (1-for-4, R, RBI) scored the final Panthers’ run that ended the game an inning early.
“It was a little disappointing to not be able to play at home when we had the opportunity to, but still, it was just nice to be outside,” said Kontos, who was celebrating her 18th birthday on Thursday. “It is nice to see the team developing. We have a lot of good freshman that have contributed a lot this year and we want to keep this going.”
One of those freshmen is Emma Douma, who had a hit and scored a run batting from the leadoff spot, but also threw a complete-game two-hitter from inside the circle. The right-hander struck out five and walked just one to improve to 8-6 on the season while Midland Park upped its overall record to 16-6.
“This was a very good team that we played. They made contact and put the ball in play. It was good competition and a fun game to play in,” said Douma, who kept Midland Park in the game in its last outing, a 4-1 loss to defending champion Ramsey in the Bergen County Tournament Round of 16. “Coming up to the varsity this year I was very nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, but as the season has gone on I have been getting more and more comfortable. I try not to think about who we are playing, I just try to pitch my game the way I know how to.”
Douma faced the minimum of three batters in the first, second, third, fifth and sixth innings. It was in the fourth inning that Park Ridge was able to break up the no-hitter and the shutout. Hannah Hanson led off with a clean single to left and Chandler DeMarco drew a two-out to keep the inning alive for Julia Manning, the Park Ridge catcher who delivered a single up the middle to drive in the Owls’ lone run.
North 1, Group 1 is always a competitive bracket and this year is no different, although there is one obvious favorite in top-seeded Cedar Grove, the defending champion that made it all the way to the Tournament of Champions semifinals last year, and Midland Park is on the same side of the bracket. The two could meet up in the semifinals this year.
“We would have to beat them to get to the final and if we make it there we would be confident because I think we can play with the better teams in the area. I think we have proven that,” said Eliopoulos. “We need to get there first and Emerson is our first priority for both the league title and moving on in the states. We have to focus on what is right in front of us and that is Emerson twice.”