by Andrew Garda

MORRISTOWN — After soundly beating St. Mary’s of Rutherford 13-1 in the first round of the 2017 NJSIAA North, Non-Public B tournament, the Montclair Kimberley Academy softball team traveled to Morristown on Friday, May 26. While they played well and generated some offense, the sixth-seeded Cougars ultimately fell to No. 3 Morristown-Beard, 6-2, in the quarterfinals.

MKA coach Jessica Sarfati had juggled the lineup recently, among other things, moving Amanda Mack from shortstop to catcher, Erin Nicholson from third base to short and Jenn Donatiello from outfield to third base. She continued with the more recent lineup again on Friday.

“I told the kids that I’m really, really proud of where they’ve come from,” Sarfati said. “We’ve finished strong, been a really strong team since [the moves].”

It has not only been a good set of changes out in the field — the Cougars played an error-free game Friday — but at the plate as well. The overall shift seems to have suited the team, which had won three of four games prior to Friday’s matchup.

Against the Crimson, Sarfati’s team did what it has often done this season — the Cougars generated two runs in the first three innings with good base-running and selfless hitting.

“We came out strong. I think our bunting was really strong, and our running,” Sarfati said.

Emily Talkow led off the game with a base hit, and then moved to second and third on sacrifice hits by Grace Turvey and Mack. With Talkow on third and two outs, Donatiello stepped to the plate and cracked a single to send Talkow home.

The Cougars left the top of the first with a 1-0 lead over the Crimson.

Pitcher Geena Pacifico then took over and allowed just two hits over the course of the first and second innings.

The Cougars took to the plate again in the third, still leading by one.

Talkow again led off with a hit, outrunning a bunt, but was out on a fielder’s choice when Turvey connected with the ball on the next at-bat. After advancing to second when Mack reached first on an error, Turvey scored when Mack stole second and the second baseman dropped the ball. The player hesitated when going to pick it up and Turvey made a heads-up play by stealing home and giving the Cougars a 2-0 lead.

Unfortunately, that was the last inning where MKA was able to generate hits or runs.

“[Morristown-Beard] caught on to it early,” Sarfati said. The Crimson worked hard to limit the opportunities the Cougars had to get on base and were very careful to defend against the bunts MKA had hurt them with in the first few innings.

Sarfati also said that her hitters allowed MB pitcher Katie Wright to take control of the count too often.

“We got too deep in the count and let her kind of run [it],” Sarfati said. “Which is challenging, because once you have one strike on you then you’re taking pitches. It’s hard to come back from that.”

Meanwhile, MB came back in the bottom of the third and scored three runs on three hits, a sacrifice and a walk. They would add another two runs in the fifth and one in the sixth as well.

Unable to generate more base-runners, the Cougars never were able to get back into the game.

For Sarfati, while the season has ended, there’s a lot of reason for optimism.

“I’m really looking forward to next season already and we’re feeling very positive,” she said. “Emily [Talkow] is fantastic at second base, and we have a lot of eager players who are excited about the game and who will mourn the fact that the season is over. And I said to them that’s what I want because that means we did something right.”