Preston was leading by a run and four outs away from celebrating their first CHSAA Archdiocesan softball championship before everything changed on one bang-bang play.
Host St. Joseph by the Sea scored two runs with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning on a misplayed throw on Alex Cusamano’s infield grounder. The mistake was enough to hand visiting Preston a 4-3 loss in the championship game May 19 in Huguenot. It is the Vikings fourth straight crown and fourth time it beat Preston in the final to do so.,
“We were all in a stare of shock,” Preston ace Juilanna Orrico said. “We were winning the entire game and then it just slipped away from us. It felt unreal and than it set in that our high school careers were over.”
Preston led 3-2 with two on and two outs in the sixth. It appeared Orrico was out of the jam when Cusamano grounded to Ashley Puig at short. Her throw brought Marissa Denner off the bag at first. Cusmano was called safe as she collided with Denner, who was trying to find the base with her foot.
Nicole Meliak, who singled to start the inning, scored the tying run from third. Time was not called and Sea coach Jillian Rini sent Julianna Cretella home from second. She scored to give the Vikings a 4-3 lead.
“I was overly aggressive, but I told the girls that I rather be aggressive than coach scared,” the second-year softball coach said of her decision.
It was a play Preston coach Frank Toscano and his team will rue for a long time. “There’s no way to handle it,” he said. “There’s no next year for our seniors. They won’t get it back ever. That’s what it makes tough for us. We have been through this together, “ he said.
Toscano’s club missed a chance to pad its lead in the top of the six. Vikings starter Cara O’Leary was in a jam after getting the first two outs. She gave up hits to Bianca Mastropietro, who was 3-for-3 with a double and two runs scored, and Danielle Kibler. With Mastropietro at third and Kibler at first, Puig struck out to end the threat.
“It was the turning point of the game,” Toscano said
Preston went up 3-0 early on s Puig’s sac fly in the second and Victoria Rivera’s two-run single in the fourth. Orrico did all she could to hold it and give Preston a chance to win. She gave up no earned runs on seven hits with two strikeouts.
It wasn’t the ending she and her teammates hoped for, but it doesn’t diminish what they accomplished during their time at Preston. This group believes its pushed the program to another level.
“We could not be prouder,” Orrico said. “We got Preston on the map and we never won a championship. I’ve seen how far this team has come in four years and it truly is amazing.”