By Tony Pinciaro & Ray Gallagher
We have seen great individual pitchers hailing from the Westchester/Putnam regions of Section 1 before, but Mahopac senior Shannon Becker and juniors, Stella Bale of Lakeland, and Maya Servedio of Yorktown, form one of the finest triumvirates we’ve ever seen in this neck of the woods. The three chuckers combined to strike out 78 batters over the course of four championship games last weekend; Bale combining for 40 in the Section 1 Class A-1/A-2 finals in wins over Yorktown and Tappan Zee, Becker dropping 18 likes flies in the Indians’ 1-0 Class AA title victory over North Rockland and Servedio sitting down 20 in a losing champion effort at Lakeland.
“I can’t recall a time when we’ve had three pitchers in a 15-mile radius dominate like these three have,” 31-year veteran Lakeland Coach Steve Fallo said. “All three will go on to have dominant college careers, they’re that special.”
That kind of “Special” produced a pair of sectional championships for Examiner-area teams.
It was only fitting that shortstop Ava Lichtenberger delivered the biggest hit in MAHOPAC softball history after making the most important defensive play in program annals.
Lichtenberger singled in Gianna LoFaro with the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning, sending top-seeded Mahopac to a 1-0 win over visiting second-seeded North Rockland in the Section 1 Class AA softball final.
It was the first sectional title for the Mahopac softball program and second 1-0 walk-off win over North Rockland this season. Mahopac achieved this title because Lichtenberger made a huge defensive play in the top of the 10th inning. The freshman shortstop fielded a relay and fired home a strike to catcher Michelle DellaMura, who applied the tag to get the North Rockland baserunner.
“The 10th inning was crazy,” Notre Dame-bound Mahopac pitcher Shannon Becker said. “They put pressure on us as they started with a runner on second and our shortstop, Ava Litchenberger, made an amazing throw to the plate and Michelle made an amazing tag. They picked us up and it was so exciting. We brought that energy into the bottom half of the inning and Ava again came through with an RBI single. I’m so happy for her. It was such an exciting inning and those are the exciting moments why you play the game.”
Winning the title on a walk-off on your home field made it more special for Mahopac, especially for Mahopac Coach Cristina Giansante’s seniors.
“It was surreal when we scored the winning run,” Becker said. “Proud is an understatement to describe how I felt. We worked so hard and to see it all pay off is so rewarding. Going out my senior season as a champion is so amazing and I wouldn’t have wanted to end my career any other way. I am so fortunate to be a part of this team and I was filled with joy.”
Becker was her usual dominant self in beating North Rockland for the second time this season. Becker spun a three-hitter and struck out 18 in registering her 18th shutout of the season without allowing an earned run all year.
Even though Becker blanked North Rockland in a regular-season matchup, she and DellaMura did their homework in preparation for the final.
“We knew North Rockland was a really strong team coming in,” Becker said. “They’ve proved to be a top contender this year, and after beating them 1-0 on a walk off when we played them in regular season we knew it was gonna be a great game and we’d have to give it everything we have to get the win. They’re a great team and we were prepared for a tough fight. Michelle and I reviewed what the batters did against us last time and planned pitches for each batter.”
For the second time this season, Becker and North Rockland sophomore windmiller Delaney McGovern were locked in a pitcher’s duel. Becker was in her zone in the first inning.
“ I wanted to set a tone from the start and when I struck out the side the first inning I knew I felt good,” Becker said. “I went out there hyped for the game and I think that helped me start out strong and get through the game.”
Becker credited McGovern with also pitching an excellent game.
“Delaney did a great job attacking the inside half of the plate,” Becker said. “She got a lot of us jammed or to pop out and I think once we got a couple at-bats we went up to the plate with better plans and had better approaches at the plate towards the end of the game. She has proved to be a great pitcher and I knew it was going to be close. I give her a lot of credit for throwing two great games against us and she’s going to do great the rest of her high school career.”
Becker pointed out she was focused throughout because every pitch mattered.
“In tight games, it‘s much easier to stay focused because each pitch and each play matters,” said Becker, who singled and doubled.
“It pushes me to stay focused. After a pitcher pitches a great game like that, no one wants to be the loser, so I’m pushed even more to give it everything I have.”
Mahopac had been waiting for the opportunity at a sectional title after coming up a round short in 2019 (semi-final loss to John Jay East Fishkill) and not having a 2020 spring season because of covid.
“This time last year, we were devastated with the news that our entire season would be cancelled,” Becker said. “Things turned around and a year from that moment, we wound up section champs. We’re so fortunate to have had a traditional section tournament and have a chance to fight for the title in the entire section.
“Winning this title is so surreal. This team was amazing and we deserved it so much. We worked so hard and I think after losing a heartbreaker in 2019 and 2020 being cancelled, we were hungry to finally do it. And we did. I am so thrilled and couldn’t have asked for a better way to wrap up my Mahopac career.”
Mahopac finished the season at 19-1.
Stella Bale was not going to allow LAKELAND to be denied last weekend. The junior RHP tossed a three-hitter and struck out a career-high 21, sending top-seeded host Lakeland to a 1-0 walk-off win in 12 innings Saturday over second-seeded YORKTOWN in the Section 1 Class A-1 softball final.
Senior C Melody Rubino bunted home Amanda Cohen with the decisive run to give the Hornets the title.
Bale followed that win up with another shutout, 7-0, over A-2 champion Tappan Zee in the A1-A2 championship game Sunday at Arlington. Bale rang up 19 strikeouts giving her 319 for the season and 40 K’s over her final two games.
“Stella’s performance against Yorktown was absolutely outstanding,” said senior 1B Hannah Matusiak. “Stella manages to do something amazing every game and is by far the best pitcher I ever played with.”
Lakeland defeated Yorktown, 3-0, in the regular season. Yorktown pitcher Maya Servedio was matching Bale zero for zero. Servedio struck out 20 and scattered seven hits. The two pitchers allowed one free pass apiece in what could only be described as the duel of the decade.
“I didn’t know how the game would play out, but I knew both teams would give it their all,” Matusiak said.
Once the game went to the 10th inning and the international tie-breaker rule was instituted — last batted out of the previous inning starts the 10th inning on second base — Matusiak said it became even more intense.
“That game was the most nerve-wracking game I’ve ever played in, but we all kept each other calm,” Matusiak said. “Once we went to the international tiebreaker, it made us play harder as a team.”
The nerves and tension turned to celebration when Cohen touched the plate to end the game, scoring upon Rubino’s well-placed bunt.
“When the winning run scored I was beyond happy and have never felt such an amazing feeling,” Matusiak said. “It felt like the whole world stopped and it was just me and my team celebrating on the field together, especially after the 2019 final and then not having a junior season. This was special for me and the other seniors. I’m so proud of our team and am beyond grateful for this season.”
In the win over Tappan Zee, Ava Knopf had two hits, including a home run, drove in two runs and scored twice. Lakeland senior SS Shannon Scotto and Leah Cohen also had two hits and two RBI and Ryleigh Melendez added two hits and a run scored.
Lakeland closed the season with an 11-game winning streak to finish 18-2 while securing the second title in the last four tries years for 31-year veteran Coach Steve Fallo, who called bale the greatest windmiller in Lakeland history.
“Stella is unlike any pitcher we’ve ever had at Lakeland, she’s simply the best,” Fallo said.
YORKTOWN Coach Samantha Fernandez said her team, which finished 17-4, surprised a lot of people this season.
“The girls played hard the whole time and I’m so proud of them for the season we had,” Fernandez said. “We proved how good we truly are. I couldn’t have asked for a better season.
“The Lakeland game was probably the best game I’ve ever coached here at Yorktown, despite the loss. I was still super proud of hte girls for fighting till the end. Congratulations to Lakeland.”
Charlotte Constantine had two of Yorktown’s hits off of Bale and Servedio, just a junior, will return as one of the section’s top hurlers. Lakeland vs. Yorktown; expect more of the same in the future.
Ray has 33 years experience covering and photographing local sports in Westchester and Putnam counties, including everything from Little League/Travel Baseball to varsity high school prep sports and collegiate coverage. He has been a sports editor at Examiner Media since its inception in 2007.