By Joseph Staszewski
Monica Zhivanaj was helpless as she watched Fontbonne leadoff hitter Bianca Marletta send a ball over the left field fence for a home run in the bottom of the first inning. But instead of letting it rattle her, the St. Francis Prep sophomore pitcher used it as motivation.
“I knew it was going over. I just had to relax,” Zhivanaj said. “You know what, if that’s going to happen once I’m going to make sure it’s not going to happen again.”
From that moment on, she handled the Bonnies’ lineup well. Zhivanaj allowed just four more hits and struck out five to lead the No. 3-seeded Terriers to victory over No. 2 and defending champion Fontbonne 4-1 in the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Class AA softball semifinals Wednesday in Bergen Beach, Brooklyn. Zhivanaj saw Fontbonne players struggle to handle her fastball and trusted every pitch call by catcher Kelly Licul. The poise showed by Zhivanaj, who also starts for the school’s basketball team, came as no surprise to Coach Ann Marie Rich.
“She doesn’t get rattled,” she said. “She doesn’t get shaken… It didn’t bother her at all. It was one bad pitch.”
It’s SFP’s second-straight victory over the Brooklyn school, which beat the Terriers in last year’s final. St. Francis Prep advances to play No. 4 Mary Louis, which upset Molloy in the other semifinal, in a best of 2-out-of-3 championship series beginning with Game 1 Monday back at Bergen Beach.
“Fontbonne is our biggest competition,” Licul said. “They have always been No. 1 to us even if the standings didn’t say it. We have struggled against them, but we knew that it mattered. That’s why we brought all of our heart into this game.”
Licul certainly brought her bat as well. She went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, including a solo homer to left in the top of the second. Licul was robbed of an extra base hit in the third thanks to a diving catch in right center by Bonnies’ centerfielder Christina Calascione. The run allowed the Terriers to breathe easier after the rough start.
“I think after I hit the home run everyone was like, ‘Alright, now we are back in it,” Licul said.
The Terriers took the lead in the third thanks to an RBI single by sophomore Alyssa Seiss and a second run came home when the ball got past Fontbonne’s Delana Allegretti in left to make it 3-1. Licul brought home an insurance run in the fifth. Her two-out double to left allowed Briana Emanuele to cross home plate after Emanuele had doubled during the prior at bat.
St. Francis Prep won’t let itself get overconfident entering the final and looking for its first diocesan title since 2008. The Terriers have beaten the defeating champs and took two of three games when facing Mary Louis in the regular season, but Wednesday proved any team is capable beating any other in Brooklyn/Queens division this season.
“This whole year has been all over the place,” Licul said. “That just shows this championship can go to anyone.”
Mary Louis 1, Archbishop Molloy 0: Nicole Hubert tossed a two-hitter to lead the fourth-seeded Hilltoppers to an upset over regular season champion Molloy. Hubert walked just one and struck out two. The senior also scored TMLA’s lone run in the fifth inning, which she led off with a single. Angela Pfeffer was hit by a pitch and Katherine Barbaro delivered the RBI single to make the score 1-0. First-year Hilltoppers Coach Toni Anne Campuzano has seen a different mind-set from her team and seniors as the season drew to a close.
“I think all the seniors are feeling it now,” she said. “They are just hungry. They want it.”
Stanners ace Alexandra Yule was equally as dominant in the semifinal. The junior allowed just the two hits in the fifth and struck out 10 batters.
Mary Louis’ confidence about winning games grew throughout the season as it beat St. Francis Prep, Fontbonne and Molloy (8-4) during the regular season. The team did not make an error against the Stanners and that’s a big reason why TMLA (9-7) will face the Terriers in the finals, where Mary Louis will attempt to win the school’s first diocesan title since 2005.
“They are fixing everything that needs to be fixed,” Campuzano said. “They are coming around when it really matters.”