It took 16 innings of high-pressure softball — a regulation seven to dispose of FDR 2-1 and another extra inning-nine to beat Ellenville 3-0 — but New Paltz softball, with a brand new coach and a starting lineup with five freshmen, rode the brilliant performances of junior righthander Jill Harrison to win its first-ever MHAL championship. The journey wasn’t easy…it never is.
New Paltz won its first-ever Section 9 title last season behind the gritty pitching of the now-graduated Bridget Bennett and a big-hitting lineup, all of whom graduated. So the Huguenots were going into this season with just two starters — shortstop Anna McDuffie and third baseman Allie Defoe — and a young coach up from the JV’s in Brooke Frey, who decided to roll the dice in her first season and start five freshmen from her JV team — catcher JoJo Tanzi, first baseman Paige Sarvis, second baseman Mena Bonagura, third baseman Kate Bennett (Defoe moved to the outfield/DH) and leftfielder Jordan Giancola — surrounding Harrison, who pitched a bit last season and mostly DH’d. And after losing the opener to Saugerties, the young Huguenots ran off nine wins in a row. Talk about a great run. It was the confidence-builder par excellence for Frey and her young players.
But to even get to their first MHAL Final Four in a decade, the Huguenots still had to beat a potent Rondout team that crushed them 13-2 just a week ago. But on Friday, May 12, in the regular season finale, it was a different story, as Harrison threw a three-hit 2-0 shutout at the Ganders, striking out six. Two third inning runs were all they needed: an RBI single by Paige Sarvis and a run scoring on an error on a Jordan Giancola ground ball. That was enough, sending New Paltz into the rarefied air of a Final Four appearance commencing with FDR at the Highland High School field on Monday, May 15.
The Huguenots struck quickly to open the game, as Mena Bonagura drew a walk off the Presidents’ Madchen Knauss, with Sarvis rifling a single into centerfield. Giancola forced Bonagura at third base, but Harrison drew a walk to load the bases. Allie Defoe looped a ball into shallow rightfield that forced Harrison at second, but scored Sarvis with the game’s first run. Knauss ended the inning by fanning JoJo Tanzi.
In the second, after Harrison set FDR down in order with a pair of K’s, New Paltz nearly had a second run, as Kate Bennett reached on an infield single and moved to second on a passed ball. And after Veronica Hill fanned, Anna McDuffie bunted for a base hit, sending Bennett to third base. Bonagura then hit a shot to deep centerfield to seemingly score Bennett with New Paltz’s second run…but the run was appealed by FDR and Bennett was ruled out for tagging-up too soon. It was a lost run that could have come back to haunt the Huguenots, but Harrison didn’t really need it the way she was pitching.
New Paltz added a run in the third, as Giancola doubled to rightfield with one out. Harrison singled to right to move Giancola to third, scoring on Defoe’s shot off Knauss’s leg on the mound. Tanzi singled to leftfield to load the bases again, but FDR got a force at the plate on Bennett’s tap back to Knauss, and once again the FDR righthander got out of the inning as Hill popped to second.
FDR broke through in the fourth inning, as Liz Gross reached on an error by McDuffie at short, but was forced on a perfect Sarvis-to-McDuffie force at second on a grounder by Knauss. After a sacrifice bunt moved Knauss to second, Liz Miller lined a double into the left-centerfield gap to score Knauss…and it was 2-1 New Paltz. Harrison then got Chloe Moretti on a fly to center to end the inning.
FDR threatened in the fifth, with a one-out walk and a single, but Harrison got out of the mini-jam with a ground out to the sure-handed Sarvis and a ground out to McDuffie…and that was it. The big rightie got the last six out, striking out two, to send New Paltz into the championship game against Ellenville at Tony Williams Park in Highland.
And what a game it was, as Harrison and Ellenville’s Teresa Bodendeistel hooked up in an epic 0-0 duel through the first seven innings of regulation and then an eighth extra-inning, setting the stage for New Paltz’s three-run ninth that gave them the game and that cherished first title.
But it wasn’t without its drama, as Tanzi opened the top of the ninth with a double to the fence in centerfield. Bennett was hit by a pitch, setting the stage for little-used Veronica Hill, who lashed a Bodendeistel fastball into centerfield to score Tanzi with the game’s first run. It was a huge hit. Probably enough the way Harrison was throwing it by the Blue Devils — she had 14 strike outs through eight innings — but Bennett and Hill moved to third and second on the throw to the plate to try to get Tanzi, and after McDuffie fanned and Bonagura popped to second, Sarvis ripped a single into centerfield to score both. It was 3-0 and New Paltz (and Harrison) was just three outs from that title.
But again, it wasn’t easy…as Emily Lutz singled into centerfield with one out, and after Harrison fanned Alyssa Santiago, Annalise Mallave sliced a double down the rightfield line to send Lutz to third. Ellenville had the tying run coming to the plate in Julia Ligotino. Harrison, bearing down, handcuffed Ligotino with an inside fastball that seemed to caroom of her bat and into the glove of a charging Sarvis along the first-base line as she fell to the ground.
It was game over and New Paltz was the MHAL champions.
Harrison, the league MVP if there ever was one, in her final three games (including Rondout), gave up two runs in 23 innings, 12 hits, striking out 27…all under pressure. Sarvis was the hitting star in the Final Four, going 5-for-9 with three RBI’s, with Tanzi 3-for-7 and scoring the winning run against Ellenville, Defoe 3-for-8 with the two RBI’s against FDR, and of course Hill, her only hit of the Final Four the game-winner in the championship game.
New Paltz is 12-2 on the season and awaits this week’s Section 9 Class A seeding.