It’s the same circle she’s pitched in dozens of times before, but something felt different for Cheryl Lopez in Huguenot on Monday.
Maybe it was the unusually warm weather, maybe it was the opponent or maybe it was the MSG Varsity cameras. But it took the Tottenville ace a little longer than usual to get going.
“There’s definitely a lot of hype around this game, especially with all the cameras around,” Lopez said. “It was definitely in our heads, but we stayed focused and did what we had to do.”
The junior survived a scare in the first inning, but cruised from there in a complete-game, two-hitter, striking out 12 in a 3-0 victory against James Madison in a rematch of last year’s PSAL Class A championship game – also won by the Pirates.
“I started to hit a groove and I worked off that, worked off the energy of the team,” Lopez said.
Tottenville coach Cathy Morano called the showdown a “statement game,” and Lopez made arguably the biggest statement of all, staking her claim as the city’s best softball player.
“It’s definitely a confidence boost,” Lopez said. “It was an important game for us.”
If the Pirates, ranked No. 1 in New York City by MSG Varsity, are indeed the city’s best softball team, Madison first-year coach Brian Friedman believes his squad isn’t far off.
“They are an extremely good team, the best team we’ve played so far, but I don’t want any of my girls leaving here thinking they’re better than us,” he said. “They are a very good team and we are a very good team. I think if we played a series, I don’t think they’d sweep us or anything like that. I think we’d have a very good chance of beating them anytime we step on the field with them.”
Madison’s best chance Monday came in the first inning. Victoria Slavik reached on a single and stole second base. After Gina Gerone lined out, Samantha Rodriguez reached on a walk and a double steal gave the Lady Knights runners at second and third.
But Jennie Hosty flew out to right to end the inning and Tottenville (6-0) escaped a rare jam.
“I think that first inning was a real swing inning and if we would have gotten that big hit to blow it open, [Lopez’s] confidence would have gone down,” Friedman said. “But she got out of it and maybe our hitters’ confidence went down.”
No. 5 Madison (6-1) only had two more base runners after that, but Breanna Depasquale, who reached on a walk, was thrown out by Jennifer Palase trying to steal second in the third inning and Rodriguez was stranded at first following her one-out single to right in the fourth on back-to-back strikeouts.
Utilizing a screwball that consistently painted the inside corner, Lopez retired the final 11 batters she faced.
Madison sophomore Cheyenne Tatesure was solid, as well. She kept Tottenville off-balance for much of the game and induced 11 flyouts, including five to Slavik in center.
“Cheyenne is developing at such a rapid rate, I could not be happier,” Friedman said. “From the beginning of the season where she was completely unsure of herself when she was stepping on the mound to where she is now where she is throwing two pitches for strikes and getting batters out at this level, I couldn’t be happier.”
Lopez helped her own cause with a leadoff single to right in the fourth. Genevieve Buccigrossi, running for Lopez, reached second on a wild pitch and hustled to third on Jill Regan’s groundout to Gerone at short.
Freshman first baseman Nylah Ramirez followed with a single up the middle, scoring Buccigrossi for the game’s first run.
“I was waiting for that pitch all game,” Ramirez said. “I hopped on top of it and knew that I had to get the RBI in.”
She did just that and then started a two-out rally in the sixth with a line drive single to left.
“That was key and for a freshman to have that kind of poise and to get up there and do that,” Morano said. “We needed to get that run in and she came through for us. And then she got that other hit to keep us going.”
After Ashley Notaro reached on a single up the middle, Jill Giuffre belted a two-run double to center to extend Tottenville’s lead to 3-0.
That was more than enough offense for Lopez, who fittingly ended the game with her 12th strikeout. It was a huge win because it was against a Madison team it faced in the final a year ago. But it was also the start of a big week for the Pirates, who also face McKee/Staten Island Tech, Construction and Susan Wagner.
“This is a big game for us, kind of a statement game,” Morano said. “She did what she had to do.”
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