Mikayla Amoruso's two-run homer turned things around in favor of Indian Hills, which advanced to the North 1, Group 2 state secional final with a 6-1 win over Mahwah.
OAKLAND – As Indian Hills’ Mikayla Amoruso walked to the dugout after escaping a third-inning jam against Mahwah, the look on her face said it all. She was not happy with how she was pitching and it could not have come at a worse time with the Braves’ season on the line against upstart Mahwah. Trailing by a run in the third inning, Amoruso took it upon herself to turn things around.
Amoruso slugged a two-strike, two-out homer to give her team the lead. Alayna Hoffman followed with a solo clout to left as top-seeded Indian Hills cruised from there to reach the North 1, Group 2 state sectional final with a 6-1 semifinal win over No. 5 seed Mahwah on Tuesday afternoon in Oakland.
“When you get to the state tournament, you have to be on your ‘A’ game,” said Hoffman. “It wasn’t the start we wanted, but we’re a team that’s really good under pressure and we made the adjustments we needed to.”
This appeared to be an easy matchup on paper as Indian Hills defeated Mahwah via the mercy rule back in April. But games are not played on paper and Mahwah pitcher Jordan Nista adjusted her approach in their second meeting. The sophomore kept the ball up in the zone and the Braves kept chasing it the first time through the order.
Meanwhile, the Thunderbirds were putting together quality at-bats in both the second and third innings. Mackenzie Kelly reached on the first of two errors by the Braves in the inning, and eventually came around to score to make it 1-0. They nearly padded that lead with two runners in scoring position in the third inning. Amoruso struggled to find her command early on. Although she did not walk a batter in the game, the sophomore kept falling behind batters and putting the T-Birds in favorable hitting counts. However, she never stopped working and started to find the zone. She wiggled out of that jam and then got a chance to help herself in the bottom half of the frame.
Jordan Nista taking a cut for Mahwah, which finished its season with a 12-13 record..
After two quick outs, Gia White had a two-strike, two-out hit and stole second. Amoruso has been one of North Jersey’s hottest hitters as of late and with a base open Mahwah elected to pitch to her with the dangerous Hoffman on deck. Nista climbed the ladder on a fastball but Amoruso was ready this time. She caught up the letter-high pitch and slugged it over the fence in left-center to turn a one-run deficit into a one-run lead with one swing of the bat. Hoffman then followed with a no-doubt homer to left to make it 3-1.
“I knew when I got out of the third inning, I had to calm down and just think of this game as it’s a regular game,” said Amoruso. “When I got up the second time, I had two strikes, so I had to protect. I had to stay focused and just see the ball all the way in.”
Once given the lead, Amoruso settled in from there. She received some insurance runs in the sixth on a two-run single from Allison Babino and a sac fly off the bat of Taylor Palmieri.
Amoruso allowed five hits and the one unearned run with six strikeouts for Indian Hills (23-7). Hoffman led the way at the plate going 3-3 and finishing a triple shy of the cycle.
Nista took the loss for Mahwah, who finished the season with a 12-13 record.
Alayna Hoffman hit a home run for Indian Hills, which will play Pequannock in the section final on Friday.
Indian Hills now heads to the North 1 Group 2 section final on its home field where a familiar foe awaits with a storied past awaits. The Braves will take on No. 10 seed Pequannock with the section title at stake. Back in 2009, Pequannock beat the Braves on their home field in the North 1 Group 3 section final on the way to a Group 3 state title. The next year, Indian Hills returned the favor on its way to the Group 3 state crown. The teams met in early April with Pequannock earning a 9-5 win. For the Braves to flip that result, head coach Joe Leicht knows that his team cannot afford to start slow.
“Pequannock is a strong program that we know very well,” said Leicht. “They’re an aggressive team. If we make mistakes like we did in the first few innings we’re going to have some major problems. The one thing we have up and down the lineup is power. It always gives us an opportunity to put something together and have a big inning. We woke up a bit and did so at the right time. We’ll have to do it a lot earlier though against Pequannock.”