It is said that good things come to those who wait.
For proof, ask the Nardin softball team.
The Gators showed patience over the long term and the short term in capturing the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association championship Wednesday. They wrapped up the best-of-three series in the third and deciding game with a 13-2 romp over St. Mary's of Lancaster at Nardin’s Kevin Keane Sports Park in North Buffalo.
The championship round featured a rematch of last year’s title clash, won by St. Mary’s. That means that this series has been on the minds of Nardin players for almost exactly a year. As could be guessed, this win was worth the wait.
“So long,” Jayden Szkatulski of the Gators said about the time between championship opportunities. “I’ve been praying for this day for three years now.”
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As for the game, Nardin’s patience was at its most obvious at the plate. The Gators, who were the visiting team, despite playing on their home field, showed a sharp batting eye, consistently getting an edge in the count and drawing bases on balls. That set the tone early, as Erin Nuwer doubled to start the game and came around to score on a pair of wild pitches.
Nardin had a 2-1 lead after two innings, but the game certainly felt like as though it should have been more one-sided. The Gators left two runners on base in the first, and three more in the second, and they couldn’t get the key early hit to break open the game.
Nardin received another chance to do damage in the third. The first four batters reached base, pushing in a run. But when the next two batters grounded into fielder’s choice outs at the plate, St. Mary’s looked capable of wiggling out of another jam.
But the Gators emphatically ended those thoughts. Nuwer drove home a run with a single, reaching base for the third time in as many innings. Olivia Coons walked to force home a run to make it 5-1. Then, almost mercifully, Szkatulski doubled to center field to clear the bases. It was the back-breaking hit of the game.
“At that moment, we needed to get up,” she said. “I knew the change-up was coming, and I could sit on and drive it. That was an adrenaline rush, for sure.”
“She was due, and it was a great feeling to get those extra runs at such a crucial time,” Nardin coach Jordan Dudish said.
With the big lead on her side, Nuwer, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, could afford to relax a bit while pitching her third game in a little more than 24 hours.
“I’m pretty sore,” she said after the game. “I have done that before, and I knew it was going to be tough. But I knew I had a great team behind me. I just kept my spins in mind. My rise wasn’t working, so I had to rely on my drop today.”
Nardin tacked on two runs in the top of the fifth, and added three in the sixth. That allowed the Gators to claim an early mercy-rule victory once St. Mary’s couldn’t narrow the gap under 10 runs at the end of the sixth inning.
Considering that the two teams had split the opening games of the series on Tuesday, the one-sided outcome was a surprise for Dudish.
“It was definitely less stressful, for sure,” she said. “I feel like our team has been strongest when we were the away team. I knew coming in today we were going to be hitting first. … I thought whatever team scored first was going to win.”
The most important statistic of the day was that Nardin drew 13 walks to go with 11 hits. That means many of the Gators spent a lot of time on base. Nuwer finished with two hits and two walks, Szkatulski had a walk and a hit-by-pitch to go with her clutch double, and Molly Griffin went 3-for-3 with two walks. For St. Mary’s, Lauren Payne had two of the Lancers' seven hits for the game.
“I’m so happy for them,” Dudish said of her team. “They deserve it. They worked so hard for this. St. Mary’s got the best of it last year, so it was so nice that we could get it this year.”
Nardin won’t have to wait long for its next round of competition. The State Catholic championship will be held in the New York City area Tuesday. (The rain date is Wednesday.) The Gators will play a semifinal game against a team from Long Island on Tuesday at Hofstra University. They could play a state final at the same location later in the day.
“This is amazing,” Szkatulski said. “(A state championship) would mean the world. This is huge for Nardin, and it’s a new start.”