A great first inning for the Montclair State Red Hawks in the first game of the season gave them all the momentum they needed for a two-game sweep of the Centenary Cyclones on a cold and windy day at the Montclair State University Softball Park.
The Red Hawks grabbed momentum from the start of the first game and never looked back. After a quick three outs for the Cyclones in the top of the first, Montclair State kicked off the bottom half of the inning with a RBI double by junior infielder Kaylee Powers to help bring sophomore infielder Amber Powers to home base, making it 1-0 early in the inning.
The Red Hawks wouldn’t slow down though, with pitcher Valentina Cucci smashing a double to right field with Amber Powers scoring in the first inning, making it 2-0.
A frenzy of runs would ensue afterward with senior infielder Samantha DiClementi smashing an RBI double to bring senior infielder Lia Stamile and junior infielder Elena Radesich home, pushing the lead to 4-0. DiClementi, Radesich and freshman infielder Alexis Law would also score later in the inning, making it a 7-0 lead at the end of the first inning.
Stamile credited the team preparation as a big reason why the Red Hawks dominated the game early on.
“We know every game is going to be tough given the competition,” Stamile said. “We always have to prepare accordingly.”
Stamile would smash a home run in the second inning to push the lead 8-0. The Cyclones would continue to struggle to score throughout most of the game, often going three-and-out in most innings and would not score until the fifth inning.
In the top of the fifth inning, Montclair State would switch pitchers as freshman pitcher Alyssa Bernardo came in as relief for Cucci. The Cyclones would take advantage, knocking off three runs as sophomore outfielder Tessa Ferentinos would smash a huge RBI double to bring sophomore shortstop Meghan Hughes and freshman outfielder Janaya Gaetan to home base, cutting Montclair State lead by seven at 9-2.
Ferentinos would later score a run off a flyout, making it a 9-3 game. However, Bernardo would play much better in the last two innings, finishing the game striking out junior catcher Juli Wright, as Montclair State would win the first game.
Montclair State had superior fielding and pitching throughout the entire game, as they seemingly made big plays each inning. A big example of this was a diving catch from freshman infielder Katie Debell in the second inning that ended a crucial scoring opportunity for the Cyclones.
Amber Powers, who finished with three runs in the game and an RBI, has said communication has helped improve their fielding this season.
“We have been doing well in the fielding, as we really got our communication down during [spring training] in Florida,” Powers said. “Our outfield has been doing amazing with the catches they have been making, and the infield has been knocking balls down as well.”
Cucci would earn her fifth win of the season as she only had four hits throughout the first game and did not allow a run. Bernardo would earn her fourth save of the season.
The second game proved to be much tighter. In the first inning, Powers would score off a sacrifice fly, while Stamile would hit an RBI double in the third inning to bring Kaylee Powers home.
Montclair State wouldn’t find the same success offensively early on as they did in the first game, as the Cyclones had less errors on the field and made terrific plays throughout the game. The Cyclones would claim momentum in the top of the fourth inning, when junior pitcher Jessica Hewitt smacked an RBI single to right field, bringing sophomore outfielder Courtney Deloughary home and making it only a 2-1 Montclair State lead.
However, the Red Hawks would halt any momentum the Cyclones had with three crucial runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. The inning was capped off by a huge double by junior left fielder Blake Saperstein that led to runs from Amber Powers and Kaylee Powers, making it a 5-1 lead.
After allowing no runs in the top of the sixth, Montclair State would put the finishing touches at the bottom of the inning, scoring four runs. DiClementi would smack an RBI single up the middle, allowing Debell and sophomore catcher Alex Penna to score, which made it 9-1, ending the game on mercy rules.
Montclair State has had a lot of success throughout the season and will be a major contender in the postseason but will have to lock in with key conference games approaching.
“We have to keep up our energy and everything we’ve been doing this season,” Amber Powers said. “We are very excited for NJAC play.”
Montclair State split their conference games with Stockton, winning their first game 2-1, but dropped their second game, 10-7. Sixteen of their next 18 games will be NJAC games.