Cline's Gem Hurls Watchung Hills to County Title
Pitcher named MVP as Warriors dethrone two-time defending champion Hillsborough.
If there was one thing the Watchung Hills High School softball team wasn’t lacking heading into Saturday’s Somerset County Tournament final was motivation. As it turns out, they weren’t short on confidence, either.
Junior right-hander Abby Cline turned in a fantastic effort, as she fired a six-hit shutout, walked one and struck out five, as the second-seeded Warriors topped top-seeded Hillsborough 2-0 to win their first county crown since 2002.
Watchung Hills, which had been blasted twice by Hillsborough during regular-season play this year, including 14-3 last week, fell to the Raiders three times last year, including a 2-0 loss in the county semifinals.
“Coach (Mike D’Alessandro) had us watch an inspirational movie before the game, 'Miracle,' so the entire time we kept talking about miracles,” said Cline, who was named the game’s most valuable player. “Then we were reading the articles how we were the underdog, and we said, ‘No, we don’t want to be. We want to win!’ And I think it really pushed us to do it.”
“We were due,” D’Alessandro said. “They’ve beaten us twice this year, they beat us three times last year, and it’s tough to keep beating a good team that often. We had a great week this week with preparation for this game, and I felt that they were ready, and it showed.”
This time, despite Hillsborough entering the tournament and the game as heavy favorites, and with Cline still licking her wounds after her two previous outings against the two-time defending champs, the junior had a quiet confidence as she took to the circle at Nap Torpey Field.
Watchung Hills got all the runs it would need in the top of the first inning, thanks to some uncharacteristically shoddy defense by Hillsborough.
Steph Huff and Tino Scolaro each reached on infield errors to start the game, and after a pair of groundouts to third base froze the runners and it looked as if Hillsborough might escape unscathed, junior catcher Dana Mertz delivered a line-single to left field to plate Huff, with Scolaro following her home when the ball was bobbled in the outfield.
Hillsborough threatened in each of the first three innings. The Raiders put runners on first and second in the opening frame on a two-out single by Ashley Lamont and a walk to Alison Shimko, but Cline induced a foul out to end it.
Back-to-back two-out singles in the second by Kelly Wishard and Lauren Panek then gave Hillsborough second and third and two outs after an error, but Cline got a lineout to center field to escape.
The Raiders mounted their biggest threat in the third inning, loading the bases, but Cline bore down again, and by the time the later innings came around the righty was on a roll, as she allowed just two hits over the final four frames, twice retiring the side in order.
Hillsborough mounted one final comeback in the bottom of the seventh as Alexis Pezza doubled with two outs on a 3-2 pitch, but after Cline went full again on the next hitter, she got her looking to end it.
“Abby was outstanding,” D’Alessandro said. “She was so prepared for this. She was so focused. I saw it Thursday night (in practice), I saw it again yesterday. We went over the last two Hillsborough games, we kind of talked about what we were going to do and she had that looked in her eyes.”
“I had a lot more confidence,” Cline said. “And I realized just because their name is Hillsborough, it doesn’t mean that they’re the best in the world. I just had to realize I could conquer a team without being so nervous.”
For her part, Hillsborough senior righty Ashley Lamont also pitched a great game, allowing just two unearned runs on six hits, walking two and fanning three. She also notched two of the Raiders’ six hits.
“Ashley pitched a great game,” Hillsborough coach Cheryl Iaione said. “She stepped up and did a great job and we didn’t get runs. If you had told us we would have lost, I might have agreed with that, but to get shutout, no, that I wouldn’t have agreed with.
“But I tip my hat to them. They did a great job. I knew they would come out ready, and they did.”
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