by Andrew Garda

The Montclair Kimberley Academy Cougars found ways to get runners in scoring position Thursday afternoon against Newark East Side but couldn’t drive them in often enough. The result was a 5-2 loss in the Essex County Tournament for the 17-seed Cougars to the 20-seed Red Raiders.

“Obviously our bats didn’t connect the way that we would have liked today,” coach Jessica Sarfati said after the game. “It’s tough when you’re seeing a variation of speed back and forth. One day a fast pitcher, another day a slower pitcher.”

While Sarfati didn’t want to blame the loss on the team being run down, this was the fourth game in four days.

“We’ve definitely been playing a tough schedule,” Sarfati said.

In particular, it’s been tough on pitcher Geena Pacifico. After having to throw a lot of pitches in a 17-10 win over Bloomfield Tech on Monday, she had to come right back and pitch in a 7-3 loss to Glen Ridge on Tuesday. The next day Pacifico was back at it against a tough West Orange team in a 19-8 loss.

Sarfati liked the way Pacifico had been battling all week, including in this game.

“I thought she did pretty well today, considering. They’re all definitely feeling [tired] a little bit.”

Despite getting almost as many hits as East Side did (seven compared to the Red Raiders’ eight), the Cougars always seemed one hit short of getting a rally together. Even when they did get a run and seemed ready to break through, the offense would stall.

“We couldn’t move base-runners in key positions, we couldn’t advance them,” Sarfati said. “That’s the name of the game. Advancing to second isn’t enough.”

Save for the third inning, East Side had similar problems. They’d get a runner on and often make a mistake on the basepaths, getting tagged or forced out to stymie a rally.

Unfortunately for MKA, the Red Raiders did have that one breakthrough inning. A dropped outfield fly, a stolen base and a timely hit put them in the lead 4-0. While they scored only one more time in the sixth inning, it was enough to get the win.

It didn’t help that Amanda Mack, who has been on a tear this season, was walked several times and often came up with nobody on base. She can get hits, but if the Cougars can’t get someone on base for her to drive in, there is only so much she can do.

Others have to step up as well, as Jenn Donnatiello did in the fifth. The inning began with a groundout by Grace Turvey, but Mack walked on five pitches. Donnatiello then took a called strike before crushing the next pitch deep to left field, driving Mack in with a stand-up triple.

Unfortunately, Donnatiello was caught going home shortly after on a groundout by Christina Cusmai.

It had been a similar story in the third, when Turvey drove in Kerri McGuire with a double. The Red Raiders walked Mack, but Turvey was caught at third on a fielder’s-choice single by Donnatiello and the runs dried up again.

For the Cougars,  there’s no time to do anything but get back to work. They are now in the midst of another stretch of multiple games in a short span — this week it’s four games in six days — which includes a critical game in the Preps Tournament on Thursday at home against Doane Academy in the quarterfinals.

In between they have a rematch against Newark East Side, and on Saturday they face Bloomfield Tech for the second time this season.