Nottingham’s Softball Iliana Nyktas had two hits in the Stars win over the Hornets. Photo by Michael A. Sabo
By Rich Fisher
Apr. 11: The hottest softball hitter in the Colonial Valley Conference got a little hotter today, but then cooled off just a tad.
Iliana “The Scorekeeper/Photographer” Nyktas had two hits and a run scored in helping Nottingham to a 4-2 win over Hamilton West, giving the Stars both ends of the home-and-home CVC Valley Division series.
Nyktas extended her streak to 10 straight hits dating back to the opener against Hightstown when she made an out in her first at-bat before going on a tear. It ended in the fourth on a ground-out and seemed set to resume in the sixth before her wicked line drive was grabbed by second baseman Devan Onorati. That “lowered” her average to .769.
“Not getting hits the last two times kind of threw me off,” the senior shortstop said. “But since my first at-bat of the season, I’ve been hitting. I definitely have a better approach at the plate. I changed my swing a little bit and I’ve been keeping my eye on the ball, not getting too rowdy at the plate, waiting for my pitch.”
Nyktas was joined in the hit brigade by teammates Gabby Estrada (2 hits, 2 RBI), Sophie DeFrank (2 hits, 1 run) and winning pitcher Heather Clevenger (2 hits). The output was not as ferocious as on Tuesday, when Nottingham erupted for a 14-1 win after trailing 1-0 through three innings.
But, it was enough to get the job done.
“Today started like yesterday, but just like yesterday we got more hits and got more runners on and we got them home and that’s all we need to do,” Estrada said. “Never any doubt. But Hamilton’s a very strong team.”
The Hornets (3-4) are definitely an improved team, as an influx of young players mixed with some solid veterans has Hamilton playing well on any given day.
“I have players this year,” coach Lindsey Diamond said. “I have girls that played before, I have girls that want to play, that understand the game. There are 11, 12 girls that get along and are fighting together instead of fighting each other.”
And rather than sulk over Tuesday’s shellacking, they responded to it.
“It was a totally different mindset,” standout shortstop Julia Martine said. “I don’t know what turns on for us. It’s definitely just mental. We didn’t show up yesterday and we came out right off the bat today.”
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Indeed, the Hornets took a 1-0 lead in the first when Martine got a leadoff single and eventually scored on Liz Kelly’s ground out. A sacrifice by Grace Cooke, who had a single and double, helped set up the run.
After squandering scoring opportunities in the first and second, Nottingham got two in the third on a Nyktas single, Estrada RBI double and Alicyn Blanchard RBI single. The Stars got insurance in the fourth when Estrada got an RBI single and her courtesy runner Alyssa Angelucci, scored her second run when Clevenger’s single got by an outfielder.
Hamilton got one back in the fifth when Kelly reached on a fielder’s choice and scored on Onorati’s RBI single. Cooke doubled to start the seventh, but Clevenger retired the next three to close the book on an 8-hitter with 10 strikeouts.
Nyktas was happy to see Nottingham (3-1) sweep its local rival as it tries to build some momentum after early cancellations.
“I think it’s good,” she said. “We have to come in and start winning. We made some mental errors, those are gonna happen. We have to help each other with what we’re doing wrong and get it together and we can do better and keep winning. We’ve got some good girls. The energy, once it gets going it keeps going. We don’t stop.”
Hamilton is also optimistic, but Diamond knows the Hornets must get more consistent.
“Every day’s a new day and we’re just striving for the best each day,” Diamond said. “You never want to say too much. I expect great things for this team but we are our worst enemy on any day. We have to get over the hump of who we were last year and who we can be this year.”
The Fordham-bound Martine feels the biggest improvements have been team chemistry and better clutch hitting.
“This year we’re definitely meshing together better and stringing hits more than we ever have in previous years,” she said. “It’s obviously helping a little bit and we’re staying in more games this year.”
Hamilton’s future was on full display in the final two innings when freshman relief pitcher Cassidy Palyok threw to freshman catcher Kelly and retired all six batters she faced.
Spartans fall to Ravens for second straight day
After coming within one strike of a victory on Tuesday, Steinert dropped its second straight to Robbinsville on Wednesday as the Ravens took a 2-0 victory.
The Spartans fell to 1-2 while Robbinsville improved to 2-0.