STERLING, VA — One of the region's elite travel softball teams recently closed out its summer season in spectaculr fashion, finishing third in a national tournament.
The Northeast Nightmare, based in Hawley and coached by Phil Babyak, journeyed to Sterling (VA) to compete in the Mid-Atlantic National Tournament. This invitational event attracted 23 elite 16U squads from all over the country.
"It was a great experience for everyone," Coach Babyak told The News Eagle. "The competition was really good and we played very well. I think this is something the girls will remember for the rest of their lives."
The Nightmare played seven games in all and posted an overall record of 4-3. The local lasses went 2-1 in pool play and 2-2 in the medal round.
Two of their losses were by just a single run.
This marks the end of a busy summer season for the Nightmare. The team paved its way to nationals by winning the 2012 Pennsylvania ASA State Championship. That tourney was held at State College in July and Coach Babyak's girls posted a perfect 7-0 record.
"That was such a huge accomplishment," he said. "Winning a state title made it possible for us to go to nationals. The girls really came together and played a great tournament."
On the Diamond
PA's reigning champs arrived in Virginia on a Wednesday and wasted no time in terrorizing their opposition.
The Nightmare opened up with a razor-thin 2-1 win over Willoughby, a game that was tied 1-1 into the late innings.
Emily Winkler paced the attack offensively. Winkler holds down the Hot Corner on defense and hits in the two-hole. She went 2-for-2 with a walk in the opener and scored the game winning run in the bottom of the fifth.
"Emily had a huge tournament at the plate," Coach Babyak said. "It seemed like every time we needed a big hit, she came through. Emily is one of the fastest kids around and she's very aggressive on the bases."
Winkler reached safely in all seven games and finished up with a robust .522 batting average. Emily banged out 12 hits and scored a team-high eight runs.
The Nightmare suffered its first setback of the tourney in Game Two, suffering a 3-2 loss at the hands of the host Fire & Ice squad. However, the local lasses rebounded quickly thanks in large part to a masterful mound performance.
Holy Cross ace Erica Mackey strode to the circle against the Danville Bandits and proceeded to pitch a no-hitter. The Nightmare gave Mackey plenty of support, scoring five runs in the third inning en route to an 8-0 win.
Page 2 of 2 - Caitlin Donahue led the charge in this one. Paupack's veteran first baseman enjoyed a perfect 3-for-3 day at the dish. Donahue doubled, scored two runs and collected a pair of RBIs.
"Caitlin is really coming on strong this year," Coach babyak said. "She's our workhorse. Caitlin is an excellent first baseman and she's really been driving the ball this season."
With a 2-1 performance in pool play, the Nightmare qualified for medal round action and received a #2 seed.
Coach Babyak's girls began their gold medal quest with a wild 10-7 win over the Northeast Power, a team based in Queensbury (NY). Nickole Mann dazzled in this one. The Nightmare's shortstop and lead-off batter singled, doubled, walked twice and tallied two runs.
"Nicki started off a little bit slowly, but she got it going as the week went on," said Coach Babyak. "Nicki always plays solid defense and she did a nice job in the lead-off spot."
Next up was a battle with Gold Martin, a squad from Michigan. And, once again, the Nightmare was equal to the challenge. Kennedy Thomas starred in this one, playing stellar defense behind the plate and banging out two key hits for a 5-1 victory.
"Kennedy is an outstanding catcher," Coach Babyak said. "We were going to try and rest her here and there, but she wound up catching every inning. Kennedy always gives us that big stick in the middle of the line-up."
This last win catapulted the Nightmare into the tournament semifinals where, thanks to overall record and tiebreaking criteria, they were assured of at least a third place finish.
Coach Babyak's team led both of the final two games late, but eventually suffered heartbreaking 1-run losses in each. The first came against Loudon (3-2) and the second versus Bethlehem (10-9).
Donahue ripped two hits in the former, while Winkler went 3-for-4 in the latter.
"I really couldn't be any prouder of this team," Coach Babyak said. "They're such a great group of girls. We definitely wanted to win the whole thing...and we could have if a couple of breaks went our way...but, finishing third at nationals is quite an accomplishment."