The grind of a busy season, a hot afternoon playing on turf, and the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, didn’t seem to phase Immaculate Heart Academy, as the Eagles won its 26th straight game, defeating a good Nutley team, 4-0, in Westwood, on May 27.
IHA (27-1) and Nutley (23-6) will enjoy a few days off, before resuming practice on May 30. Both teams are in action Tuesday, with Nutley, the defending state sectional champ, hosting Middletown South in a sectional semifinal while IHA, the top seed in North Jersey, Non-Public A, opens its bid for a second straight state title, by welcoming Union Catholic.
This particular game was set up just two days ago, as both coaches, Nutley’s Luann Zullo and Diana Fasano of IHA, wanted to try and get their players one more game, before the holiday weekend, to stay sharp for the state tournament.
“We have to continue to get better,” said Zullo. “You fall behind in preparation, and you lose, it’s as simple as that. Playing IHA today was good for us. They’re obviously a tremendous team, with great pitching, defense and batting. I saw a few things we need to work on. Middletown South will be a big test for us, so I was glad we got to face a top pitcher today.”
Fasano, whose team had blanked Morris Knolls, 4-0, a day earlier, was much happier with her team’s performance against Nutley.
“This was much better, for us,” said Fasano. “Nutley has a real good team, with an excellent pitcher. I thought we looked much sharper than at Morris Knolls. I feel a lot better about where we’re at, heading into the weekend.”
Olivia Sprofera had another tremendous outing for the Eagles, striking out 11 and tossing a one-hitter. Southpaw Seattle Slew had a similar effort against Morris Knolls, pitching a two-hit shutout, with 11 strikeouts.
The shutout was the fourth straight and 10th in the last 11 games for IHA. The only run scored during that streak was by Newark Academy, which took a 1-0 lead on IHA, on May 19, at Ivy Hill Park, before the Eagles responded with four runs and prevailed, 4-1.
IHA pitching has accounted for 16 shutouts. Only two teams, DePaul and Holy Angels, have scored more than one run in a game against the Eagles this season.
Reese Guevarra (Sunday Silence) had two hits, including a double, scored a run and drove in a run for IHA, against Nutley. The Eagles scored once in the second and added three more in the third. Sonia Sharma caused havoc on the basepaths, with her speed and ability to work out of run downs.
Nutley pitcher Emily Holden (Genuine Risk) pitched well, but Nutley’s usual reliable defense, made a few mistakes during the third inning. Holden showed her grit, including three strikeouts in the fifth inning, to work out of further trouble.
Alanis Concepcion had the lone hit for Nutley, in the sixth inning. The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for the Raiders.
“I’ll tell you what, IHA is really good,” said Zullo. “(Sprofera) has a lot of movement on her ball. Our kids were coming back after an at-bat and said she was really tough to hit.”