Softball: Montini suffers heartbreaking loss in sectional final
Standing in plush left field grass, Montini softball coach Erin Bradarich attempted to decipher her emotions.
The Broncos entered the spring with mixed expectations, mainly due to missing all of last season because of the coronavirus pandemic. But Montini, who won Class 3A state championships in 2016 and 2018, had just one senior -- Kristina Singleton -- on the roster to rely on for big-game experience.
After Ridgewood scored the winning run in the top of the seventh inning off a wild pitch to pull out a 2-1 victory over Montini Thursday in a 3A sectional final, Bradarich expressed pride over her team's accomplishments.
The Broncos (20-5) reached the sectional finals by beating Trinity 3-2 in the sectional semifinals with a stunning comeback, scoring 2 runs in the sixth to tie the game followed by Miranda BonDurant's walk-off double in the seventh. But the Rebels avoided falling victim to Montini's magic on Thursday.
"The main message to them was to be proud," Bradarich said. "They're a very young team, and did a lot of good things this year. We won conference, won the regional and getting to this game. We had five all-conference players. It's only going to get better from here with one senior and everyone coming back. I told them to keep their heads high and be proud."
Junior pitcher Kora Navarro, the GCAC Softball Player of the Year, suffered her second loss of the season, pitching a seven-inning gem. The Rebels (23-4) scored the winning run in the top half of the seventh on a walk, a wild pitch, a sacrifice bunt that moved the runner to third base and a wild pitch that scored the decisive run.
"Hats off to Montini," Ridgewood first-year coach Ken Jurasz said. "Montini brought some great energy, but both teams brought energy. It's a shame when a team liked that can't move on, but end of the day, it's about who makes the last (mistake).
Ridgewood right-hander Gianna Amundsen (10-0) pitched 6⅓ innings. She yielded 5 hits, struck out 7 and walked 3, working out of jams in the third, fifth and sixth innings. The Broncos left seven on base in the last three innings. Left-hander Chiara O'Leary closed out the game with a strikeout after walking two and inducing a groundout for the second out.
"It's hard and we tell them seven innings of good softball and they played that," Bradarich said. "There was never a moment where I didn't think we couldn't come back or didn't have the fight or drive to do it. I had complete confidence in whoever was at-bat."
Navarro, who also suffered a regular-season loss to Marist, failed to give up a hit in the seventh inning. The Rebels scored the first run of the game in the top of the sixth on a single to left-field by Amundsen.
"I couldn't ask for more from Kora," Bradarich said. "She's pitched 90% of our games, and pitched this entire postseason. She's led this team in the circle and in the plate. I couldn't ask for a better performance from her today."
The Broncos tied the game in the bottom of the sixth on freshman Brooke Kuczynski's solo home run over the left-field fence that led to a massive eruption in the stands. Kuczynski finished the season with 10 home runs.
"It's one of those moments you knew was going to happen," Bradarich said of the game-tying home run. "Brooke's been dialed in, and been a go-to player this whole season. She's really had a strong season."