By Joseph Staszewski
During the last five seasons, St. Francis Prep watched in defeat as its opponents celebrated their diocesan titles. No loss was more painful then being beaten in two straight softball games by Fontbonne Hall and falling a win shy last season.
But there was no such heartbreak this year. The Terriers’ turn to celebrate had finally come.
Third-seeded St. Francis Prep completed a sweep of No. 4 Mary Louis with a 7-4 victory in Game 2 of the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens softball championship series Tuesday at Preller Field in Brooklyn. The Terriers took the first game 10-0 in six innings Monday en route to their first crown since 2008. The taste of victory was even sweeter for senior Jessica Menna, who lost in the finals during her first three years.
“Words can’t describe this right now,” she said. “I’m on cloud nine. It’s been my goal for four years. It feels amazing to be able to achieve that.”
SFP Coach Ann Marie Rich felt especially happy for her five upper-class students, including starters Menna, Briana Emanuele and Theresa Armano along with junior Kelly Licul. Defending champion Fontbonne Hall, which SFP beat 4-1 in the semifinals, and top-seeded Archbishop Molloy had been the favorites going into the playoffs, but the Terriers ended up victorious.
“This is a hardworking group,” Rich said. “They scratched their way to this point.”
Their toughness showed again against the Hilltoppers (7-8). Mary Louis tied the score at 1-1 in the second game during the bottom of the fourth on an RBI single from Nicole Hubert, who was 3-for-4 with a run scored.
But the Terriers battled back, and St. Francis Prep (10-5) scored three runs in the fifth.
An error kept the inning alive and plated the first run. Sophomore Alyssa Seiss, who was on base four times and scored twice, delivered a run-scoring triple and Menna drove in another run with a base hit to make it 4-1 against TMLA starter Angela Pfeffer.
SFP increased its lead to 5-1 on an error in the sixth, but Mary Louis came storming back. The Hilltoppers plated three runs on four hits in the bottom of the frame, including RBI singles from Brigitte McCabe and Katherine Barbaro, to cut the deficit to 5-4 with one out.
Terriers starter Monica Zhivanaj, who also had two hits, was able to halt the damage by forcing two ground outs.
“It was a little shaky, but we didn’t let down,” Seiss said. “We knew that we could do this.”
SFP added two insurance runs in the seventh when the second baseman couldn’t handle a ball hit by Armano, and Seiss and Menna came around to score to make it 7-4. Brianna Baglino added two hits and a run scored.
TMLA did get runners on second and third with one out in the bottom of the seventh, but Zhivanaj retired Huber for the first time of the game and struck out McCabe to end it.
“We’d be lost without them,” Menna said of Zhivanaj and Seiss.
St. Francis Prep advances to face Archdiocesan champ St. Joseph by the Sea laster this week in the CHSAA city title game. The victor takes on the Rockville Centre, L.I., winner in the state semifinals 2 p.m. Tuesday at Moore Catholic.
For Mary Louis, this ends a season that was expected to be a rebuilding year, but was filled with plenty of success to give the school momentum moving forward.
“We will be here again next year,” first-year Mary Louis Coach ToniAnne Campuzano said. “Now we work off of this.”
The Terriers understand how hard a Brooklyn/Queens title is to achieve. Ending their five-year drought and an up-and-down regular season with a championship playoff run required plenty of self-confidence and determination.
“We tried,” Zhivanaj said. “We were practicing for this day and we did it.”