Notre Dame wins second straight Mercer County Tournament softball title behind MVP Michalak

May 17, 2024 at 6:50 a.m.
The Notre Dame High softball team was all smiles after winning its second consecutive Mercer County Tournament championship on May 16 with a 2-1 win over Robbinsville. The Irish defeated the Ravens by the same score on the exact same day one year ago. Photo by Emily DiPasquale
The Notre Dame High softball team was all smiles after winning its second consecutive Mercer County Tournament championship on May 16 with a 2-1 win over Robbinsville. The Irish defeated the Ravens by the same score on the exact same day one year ago. Photo by Emily DiPasquale

By RICH FISHER
Contributing Editor

Rylee Michalak remembered 2022, standing on the same Armstrong Park field in Ewing after she and Lawrenceville’s Notre Dame High School softball team had a major meltdown against Steinert in the Mercer County Tournament championship game.

The Irish were a talented bunch made up mostly of sophomores that year, and miscues were inevitable. Rather than be crushed by the mistakes, they learned from them.

“In the moment that felt like a gut punch,” Michalak said. “But looking back we were so young and that was a real turning point for this group. Since then, it’s been uphill. We all knew as a team we would never let that happen again.”

Thus, on May 16, a veteran Irish team won its second straight MCT title with a 2-1 win over Robbinsville. It was deja vu at its finest as ND beat Robbinsville 2-1 on May 16, 2023, in the championship game. 

PHOTO GALLERY: NDHS Softball MCT Champions

Michalak was named tournament MVP after tossing a four-hitter with seven strikeouts. She did not allow a walk and left the tying run stranded at third in the seventh inning. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as last year when Robbinsville had the potential tying run thrown out at the plate to end the game, but it was nerve-wracking.

Sorella Gallucci led off the inning with a hard-hit ball back to the circle that Michalak could not glove. It was a hit, but she considered it an error. Gallucci reached third with two outs, but the University of Houston-bound hurler got a strikeout to end it. 

“All I was thinking at the moment was ‘Don’t let my error be the reason this game keeps going,’” she said. “I don’t want to sound selfish, but I was like ‘C’mon Rylee, don’t let it end like that, don’t let that run score.’ I just buckled down and got the rest of the job done.”

Which did not surprise either of the night’s offensive heroes. 

“The way she composes herself in the toughest situations is amazing,” said first baseman Emma Marchese, who has played four years with Michalak. “She never ceases to amaze me.”

Just a sophomore, right fielder Jenna Cocuzza had enjoyed her two years playing behind one of Mercer County’s all-time greatest pitchers.

“It’s just crazy,” she said. “If I’m playing the outfield or if I’m playing second base, I can see the spin on the ball.  She’s gonna do great things at Houston.”

Cocuzza did a great thing in Ewing when her RBI single in the fourth plated Madalena Creo – who walked and went to second on a ground out – with what proved to be the winning run. 

“I got an outside pitch, and I just poked it,” she said. “That was my one goal, to put the ball in play. It feels great. We lost to Robbinsville [on Apr. 18] so it just felt good to come back against them.”

It was the lone loss of the year for ND (22-1), which has won 16 straight since. Robbinsville scored an unearned run to win the first game, and ND returned the favor this time. Kayln Rosica reached on a two-out error in the first inning, and Marchese doubled her home for a 1-0 lead.

“Coaches always tell you if the other team makes an error you have to capitalize and we did,” Marchese said. “I think it’s really comforting, especially for Rylee, who did a phenomenal job.”

Michalak’s lone glitch came in the bottom of the first when Robbinsville tied it on a two-out triple and double. From there she retired 15 straight until a two-out single in the sixth.

“I kind of adjusted the next time those two were up,” Michalak said. “I just left those pitches a little too good for girls who can hit like that. I didn’t let it bother me. Everything was working for me. The rise ball was the best it’s been all season.”

It’s not surprising, as star players excel in big moments.

What has made Notre Dame’s effort so impressive is that the seniors are playing for their third head coach in four years as James Angiolino took over early this season when Chris Jackson resigned. Somehow, their mental toughness has overcome the instability. 

“At the moment it was tough, but we had our eyes on the prize from the beginning,” Marchese said. “We set our goals; we worked hard through everything.”

Michalak said the Irish just focused on what was important.

“We really kept closed doors with all of that and I think that’s been a big thing for us, trusting each other and having each other’s interest at heart,” she said. “It just let us come together and really become a family this season. It’s been incredible to see. We really have each other’s back through any difficulties.”

Fortunately for ND, when Michalak is pitching, difficulties are kept to a minimum.

The Church needs quality Catholic journalism now more than ever. Please consider supporting this work by signing up for a SUBSCRIPTION (click HERE) or making a DONATION to The Monitor (click HERE). Thank you for your support.


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Rylee Michalak remembered 2022, standing on the same Armstrong Park field in Ewing after she and Lawrenceville’s Notre Dame High School softball team had a major meltdown against Steinert in the Mercer County Tournament championship game.

The Irish were a talented bunch made up mostly of sophomores that year, and miscues were inevitable. Rather than be crushed by the mistakes, they learned from them.

“In the moment that felt like a gut punch,” Michalak said. “But looking back we were so young and that was a real turning point for this group. Since then, it’s been uphill. We all knew as a team we would never let that happen again.”

Thus, on May 16, a veteran Irish team won its second straight MCT title with a 2-1 win over Robbinsville. It was deja vu at its finest as ND beat Robbinsville 2-1 on May 16, 2023, in the championship game. 

PHOTO GALLERY: NDHS Softball MCT Champions

Michalak was named tournament MVP after tossing a four-hitter with seven strikeouts. She did not allow a walk and left the tying run stranded at third in the seventh inning. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as last year when Robbinsville had the potential tying run thrown out at the plate to end the game, but it was nerve-wracking.

Sorella Gallucci led off the inning with a hard-hit ball back to the circle that Michalak could not glove. It was a hit, but she considered it an error. Gallucci reached third with two outs, but the University of Houston-bound hurler got a strikeout to end it. 

“All I was thinking at the moment was ‘Don’t let my error be the reason this game keeps going,’” she said. “I don’t want to sound selfish, but I was like ‘C’mon Rylee, don’t let it end like that, don’t let that run score.’ I just buckled down and got the rest of the job done.”

Which did not surprise either of the night’s offensive heroes. 

“The way she composes herself in the toughest situations is amazing,” said first baseman Emma Marchese, who has played four years with Michalak. “She never ceases to amaze me.”

Just a sophomore, right fielder Jenna Cocuzza had enjoyed her two years playing behind one of Mercer County’s all-time greatest pitchers.

“It’s just crazy,” she said. “If I’m playing the outfield or if I’m playing second base, I can see the spin on the ball.  She’s gonna do great things at Houston.”

Cocuzza did a great thing in Ewing when her RBI single in the fourth plated Madalena Creo – who walked and went to second on a ground out – with what proved to be the winning run. 

“I got an outside pitch, and I just poked it,” she said. “That was my one goal, to put the ball in play. It feels great. We lost to Robbinsville [on Apr. 18] so it just felt good to come back against them.”

It was the lone loss of the year for ND (22-1), which has won 16 straight since. Robbinsville scored an unearned run to win the first game, and ND returned the favor this time. Kayln Rosica reached on a two-out error in the first inning, and Marchese doubled her home for a 1-0 lead.

“Coaches always tell you if the other team makes an error you have to capitalize and we did,” Marchese said. “I think it’s really comforting, especially for Rylee, who did a phenomenal job.”

Michalak’s lone glitch came in the bottom of the first when Robbinsville tied it on a two-out triple and double. From there she retired 15 straight until a two-out single in the sixth.

“I kind of adjusted the next time those two were up,” Michalak said. “I just left those pitches a little too good for girls who can hit like that. I didn’t let it bother me. Everything was working for me. The rise ball was the best it’s been all season.”

It’s not surprising, as star players excel in big moments.

What has made Notre Dame’s effort so impressive is that the seniors are playing for their third head coach in four years as James Angiolino took over early this season when Chris Jackson resigned. Somehow, their mental toughness has overcome the instability. 

“At the moment it was tough, but we had our eyes on the prize from the beginning,” Marchese said. “We set our goals; we worked hard through everything.”

Michalak said the Irish just focused on what was important.

“We really kept closed doors with all of that and I think that’s been a big thing for us, trusting each other and having each other’s interest at heart,” she said. “It just let us come together and really become a family this season. It’s been incredible to see. We really have each other’s back through any difficulties.”

Fortunately for ND, when Michalak is pitching, difficulties are kept to a minimum.

The Church needs quality Catholic journalism now more than ever. Please consider supporting this work by signing up for a SUBSCRIPTION (click HERE) or making a DONATION to The Monitor (click HERE). Thank you for your support.

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