McKenna Lont starts the celebration after the junior right-hander threw a five-hit shutout in Ramapo's 3-0 win over Mahwah in the final of the Bergen County Softball Tournament on Sunday afternoon.
MAHWAH – For the first three-plus innings it was the usual high-stakes, high-tension championship game. The crowd ringing the softball field behind Mahwah High School was thick all the way around. The two pitchers, Ramapo’s McKenna Lont and Mahwah’s Holly Amell, each settled in after both allowed two two-out baserunners in the opening inning and the Bergen County Softball Tournament title game was scoreless as Ramapo’s Sydney Samuel came to the plate to lead off the top of the fourth.
Samuel lifted a pop-fly halfway up the first baseline, lowered her head to run it out and just a few short steps later the game went on full tilt. Looking up to field the ball, Mahwah first baseman Erin Pryor ran head-long into Samuel, whose responsibility it was to avoid such a collision. The ball fell to the ground, Samuel was rightly ruled out for obstruction and then the three umpires gathered. When their huddle was over they signaled Samuel was not only the first out of the inning, but also ejected for initiating the contact with malicious intent.
Ramapo head coach Darren White, who has been coaching high school softball for nearly 30 years, called it the “worst call I have seen in all of my years,” and it was hard to find anyone in the crowd that was populated by local coaches and umpires, that disagreed with that assessment. It would be impossible to avoid chronicling that call because it so dramatically changed the complexion of an already hotly-contested game.
White was forced into two changes. Macy Eglinton-Manner, who has not played third base at all since a preseason scrimmage and not in a competitive game since before she entered high school, moved over to Samuel’s spot at the hot corner and senior Brennan Tosney entered the game at first base and in Samuel’s cleanup spot in the batting order.
Both would play key roles in the outcome, which was a 3-0 Ramapo win that earned the Green Raiders their first Bergen County championship since the last of their back-to-back-to-back titles in 2008.
Emily Pryor had one of the five hits for Mahwah, which was playing in its first ever Bergen County final.
Ramapo broke the ice with a leadoff home run by Victoria Cunningham in the top of the fifth and threatened to break the game open in the sixth. Savannah Nowak, who went 2-for-4 and picked up the 100th hit of her career, singled leading off, Tosney, in her first plate appearance, drew a one-out walk and Eglinton-Manner was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out, but Mahwah, the recently crowned North 1, Group 2 state sectional champion, kept itself in the game.
Shortstop Jessie Sandusky, with the baserunner crossing in front and with a grounder hugging the dirt surface, fielded and fired home to catcher Annmarie Morra, who got the force for the second out and Amell struck out the next hitter with the bases still loaded.
Ramapo’s new defensive structure would then be tested in the bottom of the sixth. Mahwah got a leadoff single by Cayla Nista and a one-out walk from Amell. And then, of course, there was a groundball to third where Eglinton-Manner had been relocated.
“The ball always goes to the player that you don’t want it to,” said Eglinton-Manner. “It always goes to the player in a new position, so on every pitch I was preparing for it to come to me and I had to be ready for it.”
Eglinton-Manner scooped up the ground ball, stepped on third for the force and then threw across the diamond from that angle for the first time in her high school career to where Tosney was now stationed. It was Tosney’s first chance too, and not an easy one as she had to come off the bag and up the line to make the catch and then reached back to apply the tag to finish off the 5-5-3, inning-ending double play.
The bottom of the Ramapo order set up the cushion-providing rally in the top of the seventh. Jenna DeLuccia led off with a double down the rightfield line and Amy Psota followed with a sacrifice bunt before leadoff hitter Savannah Ring clobbered a two-run homer, a no-doubter to left that gave the Raiders a 3-0 lead.
Ramapo junior Savannah Ring heading home after her two-run bomb in the top of the seventh inning.
Amell (7 IP, 3 R, 3 ER, 8 H, 5 K, 2 BB, 2 HBP) left the bases loaded and got Mahwah back into hit and then back-to-back singles by Pryor and Emily Morra followed by a walk to Emily Swedelson loaded the bases with no outs in the T-Birds final at bat.
Lont (7 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, 5H, 2 K, 3 BB) got one of her two strikeouts for the first out of the final inning of the season for the Raiders. Lont was keenly aware of the situation.
“I did not want to get back to the top of their order,” said Lont, the junior right-hander. “I did not want to face Cayla Nista again. She is a great hitter and they were the home team so if they came all the way back we would not get another chance to hit.”
The Mahwah lineup never turned over as Nowak grabbed a low line drive at second base and flipped over to Tosney at first for the second double play in as many innings. This time it set off a celebration at the pitcher’s circle.
“First of all, hats off to Mahwah. They battled and they would have been a deserving county champion, too. I hope they go on and bring a Group 2 state title back to Bergen County. Our girls had to battle so hard to get here. We beat Emerson, the North 1, Group 1 state champion, in the Round of 16, the defending champ Old Tappan in the quarters, we beat the top seed IHA in the semis and now we just beat a Group 2 section champ in the final. What a run,” said White. “I am so proud of the kids because in the second/third week of the season we had three losses in Bergen County. We lost to Indian Hills, IHA and Mahwah and the second time around we came back and beat them all. That a great effort by them and they were hungry to finish the season with a win.”
Ramapo (27-5), whose state tournament run ended in the North 1, Group 3 semifinals on the road against eventual champion Roxbury, finished the season with a 23-5 record. Ring (2-for-4, HR, 2 RBI, R), a junior and Nowak (2-for-4), who will play next year at the University of Rochester, each had multi-hit games. Lont had a hit and threw a gem, Eva Purvin made a couple of key grabs in right field, including a dive across near the foul line that midght have robbed Nista of extra bases leading off the third.
Mahwah fell to 28-6, but its journey through the 2021 season is not yet done. The T-Birds will visit Verona on Tuesday in the Group 2 semifinals, two wins from an outright state title and a spot in the Tournament of Champions.