Valentine's heroics lift John Jay-EF to title
NANUET – Fittingly, this is the way the 2012 Section 1 softball playoffs ended – under a brilliant night sky with a big, bright moon settling in just above and behind the backstop at Heroes Field, and with the defending state and sectional Class AA champions continuing a remarkable streak in dramatic fashion.
Top-seeded John Jay-East Fishkill High School lost an 8-2 lead in the sixth inning to archrival and No. 2 Ketcham on Saturday night, but the Patriots’ Tateum Valentine smacked a two-out, two-strike pitch into centerfield to plate the winning run in a 9-8 victory.
John Jay, ranked No. 1 in the state, is now 19-0 and has a 30-game winning streak dating back to last season’s state title run.
“We have a confident team,” Jay’s Andrea Varvara said. “This a huge deal for us. We strive big.”
And with a five-run fifth inning that put the Patriots on top 8-2 needing just six outs, it looked like it was over. Varvara started it with a triple and scored on an error. Amber Velasquez doubled in a run and then Nadia Kemp capped the inning with a long three-run home run to left field that turned John Jay’s tenuous 3-2 lead into a six run advantage for pitcher Vicky Lattanzio, who drew the surprise start in place of right-hander Amanda Gisonni.
Lattanzio got into a nice rhythm and went strikeout, strikeout, groundout in the fifth inning. But in the sixth, RCK stormed back with a huge six-run inning. Marlene Cuevas led off with a double and two walks loaded the bases. Nicole Pippa drew a walk to force in one run, and RCK then literally stole two runs when Andrea Bombace scored on a wild pitch from third base, and Abby Canning came in right behind her as she never stopped running from second.
Now it was 8-5 and Jay coach Bonnie Schilling finally brought Gisonni in. Taylor Travis greeted her with an RBI single, and opposing pitcher Casey Herzog ripped a two-out, two-run single to tie it at 8-8, sending the Ketcham bench and its crowd into a frenzy.
“It was eventful, yes,” Schilling said. “We gave up quite a few runs in that one inning and we can’t let that happen, but we knew Ketcham was going to be a tough team. They’ve been tough all year.”
But so has Jay. In the bottom of the seventh, Velasquez singled with one out, Kemp had a two-out infield single and Gabby Bracchi walked to load the bases, setting the stage for Valentine.
“My previous at-bats didn’t go as well,” Valentine said. “This time, I just let her supply the power and I looked for a pitch right down the middle in that situation. But we never lost faith. We stayed positive.”
“Clutch,” Schilling said of Valentine. “And she’s been clutch all year.”
And what can you say about Ketcham? The Indians have proven time and again they are a state championship-caliber team. RCK handed John Jay two of its three losses last season. This year, the Indians beat the No. 2 team in the state at the time, Cicero North-Syracuse, and played Jay as tough as anybody in losing three times. In fact, they should have won the second game between the two teams this season, as RCK led 9-1 in the fifth inning but watched as the Patriots staged a rally for the ages over two innings and won 11-9.
Next year, when Jay loses several key players, including Gisonni, Ketcham will return Herzog, just a sophomore; Cuevas, still a junior; and hitting sensation Bombace and feisty catcher Travis, both only freshmen, among others coming back.