Mahwah slugs its way past Heights and into quarterfinals by Rich Barton of

HASBROUCK HEIGHTS – Coming into the 2019 season the Mahwah softball team had more question marks than known commodities on the varsity level, but the Thunderbirds have been impressive right from the get-go in winning 13 of their first 16 games. The good times continued on Monday afternoon as, facing sixth-seeded Hasbrouck Heights in the Bergen County Tournament’s Round of 16, the T-Birds put everything together at the right time in their most important game of the season.

Mahwah, the No. 11 seed, strung together four consecutive hits in the second inning to bring in four runs. That was more than enough run support for right-hander Juliet Corless. The junior struck out a career-high 14 and the Thunderbirds kept on hitting to reach the Bergen County quarterfinals with a 9-1 upset over sixth-seeded Hasbrouck Heights.

“We’ve been a strong hitting team all year and the energy we brought today really was a big factor,” said Mahwah captain Hannah Wichard. “I think having so much balance with a strong defense and a strong lineup helps us calm our nerves and stay confident.”

Alexa Marinelli has raked all year for Hasbrouck Heights and kept her hot bat going with an RBI single in the bottom half of the first to put the Aviators up 1-0. That lead did not last long as the bottom of the order gave Mahwah the spark they needed.

Alexa Marinelli drove in the run for Hasbrouck Heights, which fell to 16-3 on the season.

Abby Cohen’s bloop single put the Thunderbirds in front 2-1. It sparked a run of four straight two-out hits capped by an RBI single from Emily Morra (who hit a two-run walk-off homer in a BCT first- round win over Fair Lawn on Saturday) to give Mahwah a 4-1 lead.

The Aviators’ best chance to get some of those runs back came in the bottom half of the third inning. Corless buckled down and induced an infield pop-up to escape the bases loaded jam without any damage.

Corless kept the lead at three runs before the T-Birds broke it open late. An outfield error brought home one run and Cayla Wista followed with a two-run base knock in a three-run sixth inning that put Mahwah firmly in control with a 7-1 lead. Corless did the rest; retiring 13 of the final 14 batters she faced to lift Mahwah into the Bergen County quarterfinals for the third consecutive year and the fourth time in the past five years.

“Pitching with a lead made it a lot easier for me to approach each batter,” said Corless. “I was able to move the ball around and made sure I didn’t throw it right down the middle of the plate. I got ahead in the count a lot and my confidence kept building from there.”

Juliet Corless twirled a five-hitter with two walks and 14 Ks for Mahwah, which will play Immaculate Conception in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

Corless twirled a five-hitter with two walks and 14 Ks for Mahwah (14-3). Mahwah also showed the hitting depth in their lineup with all nine of its starters getting at least one hit. Annmarie Morra closed out the scoring with a two-run single in the seventh inning. Kimmy Halpin doubled and scored for Hasbrouck Heights (16-3).

Mahwah has been a consistently successful team during the Bergen County Tournament, but the quarterfinal round has been a rough one in those years. In the Thunderbirds’ last three trips to the quarterfinals, all have ended in losses by a combined four runs. The most recent of those heartbreakers came last spring when Immaculate Conception scored a run in the bottom of the seventh inning to win 3-2. As fate would have it the Thunderbirds will get a shot at revenge when the teams meet again in the BCT quarters on Saturday at Overpeck Park in Leonia.

“We’re really looking forward to the game on Saturday,” added Corless. “Whether we’re down five or up five we always have a lot of energy. We know that no matter the score is that we’re going to play hard and we’re not going to give up.”