JERSEY SHORE - Rebecca Caputo walked out of the pitching circle toward the Jersey Shore dugout where her teammates began to stream on to the field. She tried not to smile as catcher Bryce Hillyard squeezed the ball she caught for the final out of Thursday's game against Danville.
Eventually, she couldn't hold her smile back. The sophomore pitcher was brilliant in the Bulldogs' district playoff opener, tossing a three-hit shutout before the evening's thunderstorms reached Jersey Shore. The Bulldogs beat Danville, 4-0, to advance to next week's District 4 Class AAA semifinals against top-seeded Mifflinburg.
Caputo helped bring Jersey Shore out of the doldrums of a 1-3 start when she took the pitching job full-time. She showed why Thursday, inducing 16 infield outs, striking out two more and allowing just one baserunner to reach third base.
Rebecca Caputo pitches for Jersey Shore Thursday vs. Danville.
"I don't care if you strike anybody out or if you strike everybody out. I want to get balls that we can handle," Jersey Shore head coach Chris Glenn said. "She pitched to her strength. The hits weren't hard hits. They were pop-ups or groundouts that they didn't get much on."
It wasn't that Caputo was overpowering. She didn't have exceptional movement inducing all kinds of swings and misses. But she was consistently around the strikezone.
Caputo trusted a defense which has had its up and downs this year, to make plays. And the defense didn't let her down. The Bulldogs made just one error which came with two outs in the fourth inning. And that extra batter was never a threat as Caputo induced a comebacker on the next batter to end the inning.
She pounded the strike zone, throwing 62 of her 89 pitches (69 percent) for strikes. On top of that, she threw a first-pitch strike to 23 of the 27 batters she faced.
"We had three great practices this week and our defense is really peaking right now," Glenn said. "We had one or two errors but it was basically none. I thought we played good ball."
Glenn had to make only one trip to the circle to calm his pitcher, and it came in the third innings when Caputo walked Danville leadoff hitter Zina Knight on five pitches to put runners on first and second with just one out.
The meeting worked as Caputo induced a comebacker allowing her to throw out the lead runner at third base. She then got a ground out to shortstop, one of four chances Hannah Yost handled cleanly, to end the inning.
"She calmed down and let the defense work," Glenn said of Caputo. "She hit her spots and our defense was good."
Jersey Shore's offense capitalized on two mistakes Danville made in the second inning to take a 2-0 lead. With a runner on second base, Yost popped a ball up into shallow right field, and Danville's second baseman and right fielder collided. The ball fell to the ground and courtesy runner Nancy Walters scored from second base, and Yost advanced to third on the throw home.
Bree Brewer followed with a ground ball which was mishandled allowing Yost to score. And with the way Caputo was throwing those two runs would be enough, but Kayla Allen added two needed insurance runs with two outs in the fourth inning.
Caputo and Kersten Harstead singled, and Jess Allen was hit by a pitch to load the bases after Danville pitcher Tara Fritz had picked up two outs on just five pitches. Kayla Allen, who had struck out on 3-2 pitches in both the first and second innings, jumped on the first pitch from Fritz and lined it to right-center field to drive in two runs and give Jersey Shore a 4-0 lead.
It was a back-breaking hit from Allen, one which seemed to douse any spark the Ironmen had. Fritz became visibly frustrated on the mound at times in the later innings despite having maybe her best results. The Ironmen had just four baserunners over the final four innings and ended the game in the seventh on a ground ball to shortstop, a comebacker, and a foul pop-up to catcher.
"Kayla is a clutch player. When the pressure is on she seems to strive," Glenn said. "She's a gamer and she wants to get a hit every time up. She's not happy when she pops out or strikes out. I could tell from the look in her eyes that she was ready."
Danville000 000 0 - 0 3 2
Jersey Shore020 200 x - 4 6 1
Tara Fritz and Ericka Heath. Rebecca Caputo and Bryce Hillyard. W-Caputo. L-Fritz.
Top Danville hitters: Tara Fritz, 1-3; Kylie Edwards, 2-3. Top Jersey Shore hitters: Kayla Allen, 1-4, 2 RBIs; Bryce Hillyard, 1-3, run; Rebecca Caputo, 2-3, run; Kersten Harstead, 1-3, run; Jess Allen, 1-2.
With runners in scoring position: Danville 0-4. Jersey Shore 1-7.
Runners left on base-in scoring position: Danville 6-3. Jersey Shore 5-3.
Pitches-strikes: Danville, Tara Fritz 89-48. Jersey Shore, Rebecca Caputo 89-62.
Batters faced-first pitch strikes: Danville, Tara Fritz 28-11. Jersey Shore, Rebecca Caputo 27-23.