Maria Gabriele admitted to nerves prior to first pitch. The Sacred Heart freshman certainly didn't show them, though, as she mowed down the opposition with relative ease on the big stage Wednesday.
The hard-throwing Niagara Falls resident scattered six hits, struck out five and walked none to lead the top-seeded Sharks to a 4-1 win over No. 2 Nichols before an estimated 200 fans at West Seneca's Sunshine Park. It is the first Monsignor Martin playoff championship since 2008 for Sacred Heart (16-3), which advances to the Catholic State Championships beginning Tuesday in New York City.
"Once I started the game it was smooth from there," Gabriele said. "This whole year, since I was a freshman, I wasn't expecting much. Once we started playing, though, expectations were higher. It's just been so much fun. All the girls have been great. I'm so glad we've made it this far and we did so well."
Sacred Heart coach Karen Conway, an alum in her first season, is glad to have Gabriele as her ace.
"She's been throwing very well lately," Conway said. "She's a hot pitcher right now and she's unflappable out there. What more can you ask for from her?"
The Sharks' gave their flame thrower plenty of support, too, with a four-run third inning. Freshman Julia Blujus led off with a single and later scored on an RBI double from Gabriele herself. Senior Kathleen Ruggiero drove in Gabriele with an RBI single and then went to second after sophomore Emily Connors walked. Then with two outs, freshman No. 8 hitter Jill Ahrens delivered with a two-run triple to the fence in right field, scoring Ruggiero and Connors.
Ahrens finished 2 for 3, Gabriele chipped in with two hits and Ruggiero reached base three times in the win.
"With this team it's just a matter of time," Conway said.
Nichols finishes 15-5.