Neuqua Valley might have a .500 record, but the Wildcats are starting to look like the type of team no one wants to face come playoff time.
The Wildcats improved to 8-8 after beating rival Metea Valley 3-1 on Wednesday afternoon behind solid defense and a 3-hitter from pitcher Kristin Catalano. The win, which comes on the heels of a 1-0 defeat of St. Charles East the previous day, improved Neuqua Valley to 6-0 in the Upstate Eight Conference and shows that the team may have enough pitching and defense to make some noise this spring.
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"It's nice that we've finally hit our stride," said Catalano, 3-2 on the year. "We struggled at the beginning, but it's nice knowing that we're getting ahead now and we're winning some games."
With Catalano and Mustangs starter Elise Titiner each starting strong, the game remained scoreless until Neuqua Valley pushed across a run in the bottom of the fourth when Rachel Chase singled, moved up on a walk and came around on a two-out hit from Julia Huebner, who was 3-for-4 at the top of the Wildcats' order.
The lead grew to 3-0 in the fifth on a 2-run single by Aryanna DiBernardo, and that was more than enough support for Catalano, who got into some trouble in the sixth but managed to escape with allowing just run when a bases-loaded, one-out fly out to center turned into a double play when the umpires determined the Mustangs runner at third left early while trying to tag up and score.
"Early on we hit the ball great. It's been the last couple games where we've struggled to score some runs," Metea Valley coach Kris Kalivas said. "Unfortunately we ran ourselves out of that one inning when we had the bases loaded. But the kids fought from start to finish and that's all we can ask for."
The Mustangs (3-12, 2-6) did get on the scoreboard in that sixth inning on an RBI single by Kara Leckinger that drove in Laura Senese, but that was the only run they could muster.
"It feels good to be winning and to be facing good competition," Neuqua Valley coach Melissa Wilson said. "It would have been nice to have our bats start to work a little bit sooner, but at the same time a win is a win."
With back-to-back low-scoring wins, Wilson feels good about her team's ability to hang tough in tight games.
"I think it's really good to see this," she said. "Especially because you get to into the end of the season, postseason softball is really about defense. If you've got a 1- or 2-run lead, you've got to be able to play defense.
"In the sixth inning today when they had bases loaded and one out, those are stressful situations but those are also experiences that you need to experience now so that you can get comfortable as we get further and further into the season you are confident that you can make plays."