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Defense Carries Valhalla to Softball Championship

NANUET, N.Y. -- Each softball season, Valhalla varsity coach John Hayes speaks to his team about the importance of defense, first and foremost, followed by the offense. “All season long it has been our offense coming first and our defense second,” Hayes said. On Saturday, in the Section 1 Class B Softball Championship final, second-seeded Valhalla turned in its finest defensive effort of the season in a thrilling 2-1 win over top-seeded Rye Neck at Lake Nanuet Park, It is the fourth consecutive sectional title for Valhalla, including the last two in Class B. Valhalla advances to the regional semifinals/final at Rhinebeck High School, Tuesday. Valhalla will play the Section 9 champ while the Section 8-Section 11 champs will meet in the other regional semifinal. The semi-final winners play in the regional final, immediately following the semis. “Coach preaches defense to us and we like to think of ourselves as more of a defensive team,” catcher Maddy DeMilio said. Valhalla’s defense was air-tight behind Syndey Holtz, who scattered seven hits, struck out four and had three putouts. Even though Rye Neck managed seven hits, Holtz kept the Panthers off balance, especially at critical junctures. “We wanted to stay away from [Rye Neck's Jessica] Calvini so we mixed it up, moved the ball in and out and wanted to confuse them,” DeMilio said. “After the first inning, she [Holtz] had her confidence and you could tell she really wanted it.” Valhalla’s defense was led by sure-handed shortstop Brandi Coon, who finished with four putouts and three assists. Coon made two excellent plays in the hole to steal hits. Centerfielder Jade Fumarelli made two running catches in the first inning to deny Rye Neck of hits and DeMilio negated a sacrifice-bunt attempt in the seventh by tipping a foul ball with her left hand before securing it in her glove. Rye Neck had runners on first and second, with no out, at the time. However, the biggest defensive play of the game came in the sixth inning with Valhalla leading, 2-1, thanks to Kaylie Dymek’s single in the fifth, scoring pinch-runner Kristen Colabatistto. Dymek had both Valhalla hits off Calvini. Jessica Calvini, who singled with one out, was on first when Nickole Morgan launched a shot to the fence in left field. Valhalla leftfielder Danielle Maffei pounced on the ball, threw to Coon and she relayed home to DeMilio, who applied the tag on Calvini for the third out. “I knew I was not going to catch it so I was hoping it would bounce off the fence to me,” Maffei said. “Once I got the ball in my hands I wanted to make the throw as quickly as possible.” DeMilio was watching the play develop and knew there would be a play at the plate. “I saw Calvini coming around third and I knew it was going to be a close play at the plate,” DeMilio said. “I was using my body to block the plate.” Rye Neck had one final chance in the seventh when Julia Bilotta and Brianna Cefaloni singled, but Holtz secured the next three outs. “It is an amazing feeling,” said Maffei of the team’s fourth straight championship. “This was my goal and this was all I wanted since Septemeber.” Calvini, who will graduate as Rye Neck’s leader in every pitching category, finished with a two-hitter and seven strikeouts. She also crushed a solo home run in the fourth to even the score at 1-1. “We had our opportunities but we just couldn’t take advantage of them,” Rye Neck coach Joan Spedafino said. “I felt that Jess pitched a great game. We just didn’t finish.”

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