Cara Kochakian had a chance to correct 2 mistakes Monday afternoon, one individual and one team.Complete Box Score »
Just 1 out away from falling in the sectional title to top-seeded Mount St. Dominic, No. 3 in the NJ.com Top 20, for the third consecutive season, 2nd-seeded and No. 8 Immaculate Heart was a step away from coming up just short again.
It was a similar situation to Immaculate Heart’s Bergen County Tournament semifinal defeat against Ramapo. With a chance to break into a deficit, Kochakian struck out.
The junior shortstop would not be denied a second time.
Kochakian’s last-gasp RBI double with 2 outs tied the game and, followed by Noelle Urbanik’s bloop RBI single, Immaculate Heart claimed its first NJSIAA North, Non-Public A title with an enthralling 4-3 win over Mount St. Dominic.
It’s the first sectional for Immaculate Heart since 2017, which is also the last time the Blue Eagles topped Mount St. Dominic. Immaculate Heart had been 0-3 until breaking the losing streak Monday.
“I knew I had to get the job done,” Kochakian said. “I just wanted to hit the ball hard through somewhere. She was hitting mostly outside spots and (Mount pitcher) Sophie (Kiseloski) is a great pitcher. I knew I had to bring it. I was in a similar spot in the county game and I had to redeem myself. I had to do it for my team.
“That last inning I just did my job. But that wasn’t (the end). We had to do our job in the field and we know that’s a great team that can come right back. We had to do our job one more time. There was definitely a lot of anxiety in the field (in the 7th inning) but it feels unreal now. I’m so proud of this team.”
Early in the game it seemed as though Mount St. Dominic was well on its way to a third consecutive section title. Kiseloski was dealing in the circle, collecting 7 strikeouts the first time through the order, with the offense plating 2 runs in the first inning.
That second time through the lineup, however, proved to be the spark Immaculate Heart needed to make it a competitive game once more. After Jocelyn Moody settled in the circle following that opening inning, the junior got her team on the board with a monster 2-run home run to straightaway center field that tied the game at 2 in the top of the 4th inning.
Even after Mount retook the lead in the bottom half of that frame, the belief was back on the Immaculate Heart bench.
“It was a definite morale booster for everyone to let them know that we’re still in this game and that we can win it,” Moody said. “We’re a young team and I feel like we came together so quickly. We never gave up and I’m so happy with how everything happened.”
Like several other teams throughout the state, Immaculate Heart wasn’t sure exactly what it had when the 2021 season began. Just 3 players from the 2019 team had varsity experience and no one, from the players to the coaching staff, knew how the team would handle adversity.
It did so throughout the year but learned plenty about itself, first in a shutout regular-season loss to Mount St. Dominic followed the next day with a win over top-ranked Donovan Catholic.
“We’ve done it all season. Even when we’re down, we come back,” Immaculate Heart coach Diana Fasano said. “This team doesn’t die. They play for each other and it’s truly a special group of young ladies.
“We’ve played everyone this year. We had to build this for these opportunities to play on a big stage. They needed to believe that they were capable. We kept playing other good teams and that kept us sharp. This is a growing experience for all of them in how to perform in high-pressure situations.”
There may not have been a more high-pressured situation than the ones both Kochakian’s and Urbanik’s 7th-inning at-bats.
After Kochakian drove in the tying run, Urbanik wasted little time. She went first-pitch swinging and got under the ball as the ball sailed high into shallow right field.
The sophomore watched the ball all the way down, hoping and praying it would find grass as she made her way to first base.
What felt like an eternity of anxiety quickly turned into jubilation as the ball found its way to the center point of 3 converging fielders, falling to the grass.
“I watched it the whole way. I couldn’t believe it dropped,” Urbanik said. “It was the longest time but it turned out to be the greatest thing. I can’t believe this is happening right now. I saw Cara cross the plate and it didn’t hit me right away. But it’s an amazing feeling.”
Even with the excitement of the top of the inning, Moody still needed to lock down the final 3 outs and clinch the improbable win.
A 2-out single spread some nerves among the Immaculate Heart faithful but Moody set those doubts to bed with an emphatic swinging strikeout to end the game.
“I knew my defense was behind me and I wasn’t nervous at all,” Moody said. “I knew they would knock it down and I knew that we were going to pull this off.”