Emma Kimura (right) drove in the game's lone run and her diving grab preserved the lead for Indian Hills, which knocked off IHA, 1-0, in the Bergen County Tournament semifinals on Saturday in Montvale.
MONTVALE – When the NJSIAA voted to move the pitching rubber in back from 40 to 43 feet it offered up an offensive boost to the game of high school softball. What went by the wayside were the days of the pitcher’s duel when games between two title-contending teams were often decided by one clutch hit or one big play in the field.
As the zeros piled up in Saturday’s Bergen County Tournament semifinals for Angela Saric of Indian Hills and Immaculate Heart Academy’s Ryleigh White what quickly became apparent was that the margin for error was razor thin and someone besides the two hard-throwing pitchers would have to step up and be the difference in the game.
Enter Emma Kimura. The Indian Hills sophomore made two huge plays, one at the plate and one in the field over the final three innings. Her double brought home the only run of the game and her diving catch on a pop-up provided the finishing touches as the top-seeded Braves advanced to the Bergen County championship game with a 1-0 victory over fourth-seeded IHA at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale.
“IHA is such a strong lineup one through nine so I had to get in front of every single batter,” said Saric. “They all can hit so I couldn’t fall behind and get them into hitters’ counts. I have the confidence in my defense behind me and that allows me to be aggressive with hitting my spots.”
Saric has been a mainstay in the circle for Indian Hills over the past three seasons. Armed with a bevy of big-game experience, the St. John’s-bound senior had all her stuff working from the first pitch to the last. She consistently pounded the strike zone and rarely fell behind batters.
Sophomore Ryleigh White threw a three-hitter for IHA.
Until the final inning, IHA’s only scoring threat came in the second. Cat Thomas drew a leadoff walk and pinch-runner Gabriella Cangiamila moved to second on a sac bunt. Saric settled down quickly with a lineout and a strikeout to get out of the inning. Those outs also started a streak where she retired 15 consecutive batters.
White, a sophomore right-hander, had plenty to prove coming into this game. When the two teams met back in early April, Indian Hills put up four runs in the first inning to knock White out of the circle early in a 9-2 win. The University of Tennessee commit did not allow that to happen again as she matched Saric early on with her heavy fastball doing most of the damage.
Indian Hills had only one runner advance past first base through the first four innings before breaking through in the bottom of the fifth. Maria DeOliveira drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on a sac bunt by Kelly Hoover. With a runner in scoring position, Kimura jumped all over the first pitch and drilled it to deep left for a double that put Indian Hills in front, 1-0.
“We’ve worked so hard and this was our biggest game of the year, I just wanted to hit the ball hard and come through for my teammates,” said Kimura. “I knew that the first pitch was probably the best one I’d get. If I got a good pitch on that first pitch then I had to swing.”
Senior Angela Saric spun a one-hit shutout for top-seeded Indian Hills, which will face No. 2 Ramsey, the defending champion, for the county title on Monday in Mahwah.
Saric induced a fly out before the Blue Eagles mounted one last stand in the top of the seventh. An error by the sure-handed Kimura (her first error of the season) followed by a walk put the tying and go-ahead runs on base with one out. Right fielder Karina Bua made a running catch for the second out. A squibber off the end of Kelsey Agnew’s bat looked like it was destined to drop behind the pitcher’s circle, which would have loaded the bases. Kimura got a great jump on the ball though and dove forward to make a fantastic game-ending catch.
“I saw the ball might fall in front of me so I just had to go for it,” said Kimura.
Saric twirled a one-hitter with two walks and 8 Ks for Indian Hills (27-2). Kimura came up clutch with two of the Braves’ three hits, the game-winning RBI and the big defensive play.
White took the hard-luck loss for IHA (21-6). She allowed three hits with three walks and six strikeouts. Danica Yatko had the lone hit for the Blue Eagles, who had their 17-game winning streak snapped.
The seeds for the 2018 Bergen County Tournament held true as Indian Hills will take on second-seeded Ramsey for the title at Mahwah High School on Monday with a 12:00 P.M. first pitch. The two teams were supposed to play in the EDSAF tournament back in April but that game was cancelled due to poor weather.
“Ramsey is an excellent team and our teams knew each other quite well so there really won’t be any surprises,” said Indian Hills’ head coach Joe Leicht. “We know we’re going to have to play our best game to beat them, but we have an experienced group that has played in big games before. Hopefully we’ll play our best game and when we do the results will show.”