MONMOUTH — Brooklyn Federico was nervous in the top of the seventh inning, her team clinging to a one-run lead, but the sophomore pitcher was confident in the defense behind her.
The Monmouth defense did the dirty work for the final three outs, and the third-seeded Mustangs edged sixth-seeded Sacopee Valley 3-2 in a Class C South softball quarterfinal Thursday at Chick Memorial Fields.
“It was really scary,” Federico said. “I was really nervous, but I knew our defense had played a good game, my pitching was probably better than it has been in a while, and I just knew that we could hopefully pull through, and we did.”
Third baseman Emma Johnson gobbled up a grounder and fired to first to get the first out of the seventh, freshman right fielder June Foyt ran down a fly ball for the second out, and senior shortstop Abby Flanagan came in to secure a low infield fly off the bat of Hawks leadoff hitter Gabby Jamerson-Martin to close out the win.
“We did make the plays today,” Monmouth coach Dave Kaplan said. “And we’ve had some struggles with defense this year. But today, defense just came up huge. Made all the plays, supporting their pitcher. That’s what they’re supposed to do, right?”
The Mustangs (15-2) did make an error in the top of the first, allowing Lakyn Hink extra bases on an outfield single, but they made up for it by gunning Hink down when she tried to stretch it farther.
“I tried to stretch that and I shouldn’t have, and then she got knocked off at third,” Hawks coach Brian Hink said. “I probably should have kept her there, and we had key hitters coming up behind her for that third out. That would have been key to get that run in, and possibly a couple more at that point in the game, so I was probably a little too aggressive at that point.”
Federico worked around another error, and a hit batter, to get out of the second inning, but the Hawks (11-7) got to her in the top of the third thanks to five straight productive plate appearances.
April Barrett got it started with a single, Jamerson-Martin reached by beating the throw to first after Barrett avoided a tag on her way to second, and Lindsay Fox loaded the bases with another single. Hink drove in one run with a sacrifice fly and Riley Vacchiano singled in another to give Sacopee Valley a 2-0 lead.
Federico, who admitted to being stressed at that point, got out of the jam with her first strikeout on a 3-2 pitch that caught the batter looking.
The Mustangs tied it up in the bottom half of the inning. Johnson led off with a walk and stole second, then scored two outs later when Federico’s RBI single dropped into left-center. Federico stole second and scored two batters later on Erin Gosselin’s single to center.
“It was the momentum-gainer in the game. It was everything,” Kaplan said. “Coming right back and scoring those two and tying it, knowing we’re the home team, we’re on our own field, pitcher is throwing well, that was huge. It’s always huge to answer. That was the key to the game right there.”
“It’s huge for (Brooklyn) because when we come back and score it gives her more confidence. I mean, truly, she’s a freshman in terms of experience in high school. She’s just had a phenomenal season. She had a great game today. Pitched one of her best ones. Really, in the last three innings, they didn’t get anything. Just shut them right down. And that’s the mark of a great, young pitcher right there.”
Kaplan said Johnson was moved from the No. 2 spot in the batting order to the No. 9 spot for Thursday’s game, “so she could use her wheels.”
She used her glove to do damage, as well.
“We hit the ball hard. We had five line-drive hits after that (third) inning that we just hit to them. They just made the plays,” Brian Hink said. “The third baseman stole a couple from us that were really key. You know, great plays — those squeak through and we get at least one run in (the sixth) inning, so it would have been a different game at that point.”
The Mustangs scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the sixth. After pinch hitter Mara Pulin walked with one out, pinch runner Averi Beaudoin moved to second on a wild pitch and to third on Casey Kaplan’s sacrifice bunt, then scored on another wild pitch.
“Used everybody on the bench,” Dave Kaplan said. “Everybody got in the game, so that was pretty nice, too.”
Federico scattered six hits, struck out two and didn’t walk any batters in the win.
Elyse Guptill gave up five hits for the Hawks, struck out eight and walked three. Hink said the Mustangs were able to hit line drives off Guptill that not many teams were able to this season.