By Andrew Garda

With a quick turnaround, the Montclair Kimberley Academy softball team went from a tough 8-5 loss to Caldwell Friday night to a big 13-3 Essex Tournament win over Irvington Saturday morning.

The win sends the 17-seed Cougars against 20-seed East Side Thursday night home but there’s plenty of things for the team to do before then. From May 1 to May 5 the Cougars play five games and could play a sixth game on Saturday, May 6, if they beat East Side.

Monday afternoon the Cougars won their second game in a row as they edged Bloomfield Tech in a 17-12 shootout which saw a combined 21 hits in addition to the 29 runs scored.

Getting the hits are a big reason why the Cougars won those games, but even during Friday’s loss to Caldwell, MKA was able to put their bats to the ball, allowing them to come back from a big deficit at the end of the game.

The Cougars need to keep those bats hot, which is just one of the many challenges facing head coach Jessica Sarfati during this packed week.

“[Irvington had] a much different pitcher,” she said in a phone interview on Monday. “The girls had to adjust from a faster ball to more of an offspeed pitch.”

The team kept focus though, adjusting until they got used to the pitches coming their way. Then pitcher Geena Pacifico had a big hit, followed by Jillian Fishback, and the Cougars got rolling.

Despite the short turnaround between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, Sarfati said the team was focused and really “came out on fire.”

Another key to success during this stretch will be the play of Pacifico. There’s not much the team can do but depend on her as their pitcher even with practically a game every day. Sarfati thinks her pitcher is more than up to the challenge though.

That means battling through innings like the first on Friday night, when her change-up wasn’t working well. After that first, Pacifico settled down and pitched well.

“[Pacifico] takes direction well,” Sarfati said. “She doesn’t get frazzled.”

The Cougars can help their pitcher out with sharp fielding as well as hitting. One player who stood out Friday afternoon was freshman Amanda Mack.

During the course of the third inning, Mack was responsible for generating all three Caldwell outs, catching a pop-up in foul territory, a short fly out to shortstop and a ground out that she easily delivered to first. Then she stepped up to lead off the inning with a triple.

The Cougars would score twice in that inning.

“[Mack] is one of the most motivated on the team,” Sarfati says about her shortstop. “She’s focused on the job and work.”

Mack rounds out a solid infield, likely one of the areas where Sarfati will not tinker with the lineup this week.

Sarfati has to balance winning league games with making sure everyone is healthy and rested to win tournament games as well. Some positions, like pitcher, Sarfati can’t afford to make changes in. Pacifico is their everyday pitcher and there’s nobody else to really turn to.

As the team needs Pacifico at her best, keeping the best combination of players in the infield is the surest way to back up the pitcher.

The plan is also to try and get some of the younger players — mostly freshmen — some playing time by using them in the outfield and as pinch runners.

Even though the Cougars face a long week, Sarfati says the team is looking forward to playing consistently after multiple games early in the season were rained out.

“They’re eager to keep playing,” Sarfati said. “We have to just stay focused on our goals and take one game at a time.”