By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
VINELAND — Leilani Colaneri didn’t have a good day inside the circle on Thursday in Vineland’s home game against Mainland Regional. She allowed five earned runs on six hits and two walks in just three innings before being pulled by coach Mike Reed.
Coach Reed, however, wasn’t about to pull her completely out of the lineup because he knew in the later innings he’d need her bat. And Colaneri made it known in the dugout that she wanted a chance to redeem herself.
She got that chance in the bottom of the seventh inning, and the senior delivered in a huge way, cranking a three-run, walk-off home run to left field as Vineland somehow rallied for a 7-5 win despite being down to their final strike twice.
With two outs and nobody on — and trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh — Morgan Harrell-Alvarez nearly went down looking on a borderline pitch with two strikes. It was called a ball and a few pitches later she walked. Madison Cantoni then laced a single to left, setting up Colaneri’s heroics. But even she was down with an 0-and-2 count before hitting the game-winning dinger.
“Inside pitches are not really my pitch, but I’ve been working hard on them. It felt really good to have my teammates’ backs and come through for them,” said Colaneri, who hit the first walk-off of her career. “I got taken out of the game in the third inning. I had a little bit of struggles, but I knew my teammates were going to pick me up. I went out there, swung the bat a little bit on the tee (behind the dugout). I wanted to hit so bad and coach gave me the opportunity, and I took it. I felt it right off the bat. I’m happy we got the win because that’s what we needed. It’s huge power points for us, and I’m ready to pick this team up and win some games.”
“I knew with Anaya (Troy) leading off the inning that was a good start and we were at the top of our order,” Reed said. “I planned the lineup that way today so that we’d have some runners on when (Cantoni and Colaneri) came up. The middle of my order is just fantastic.”
Vineland (4-7, 3-3 Cape-Atlantic League American) looked as though it might get blown out early, as Mainland picked up a pair of runs in the first on a sacrifice fly by star senior left fielder Bella Canesi and an RBI double to left-center by Joslyn Adams. The Mustangs (7-6, 4-2 CAL National) tacked on a run in the second on a run-scoring double by leadoff hitter Rayna Molina, and after back-to-back homers by Ava Kinkler and Canesi in the third, Mainland had built a 5-0 lead.
But Karly Smaniotto was outstanding in relief of Colaneri, twirling four innings of shutout ball to pick up the win. She allowed just four hits and didn’t walk a batter. That calming effect inside the circle allowed Vineland to chip away and get back in the game. In the bottom of the third, the Fighting Clan picked up a pair of runs on a double to left by Colaneri — who finished with three hits and five RBIs — and in the bottom of the fifth Harrell-Alvarez blasted a two-run home run to right to pull Vineland within 5-4.
Smaniotto worked out of a two-on, two-out jam in the top of the sixth and got some help from her defense as Megan Harrell-Alvarez gunned out a runner at third from right field to end a threat in the top of the seventh. That allowed Colaneri the chance to redeem herself, and boy did she ever.
“I went up there with a clear mind,” Colaneri said. “It was really hard coming out of the game, but when I got put back in I knew I had to take that opportunity and run with it.”
The win was big for Vineland, which has now won two straight ahead of a tough stretch that begins Saturday against Seneca and includes games against Hammonton, ACIT, EHT and OLMA in the next two weeks.
“I feel like this really brings us up because we’ve been down a little bit. But this is where we mesh, come together and start winning some games,” Colaneri said. “I feel like everybody played their part today, and that’s good because that’s what we need. We have a new team and a new coaching staff, so this is our opportunity to pick each other up and win some games.”
“I’ve been preaching to this team all along that they are never out of it, and they’re starting to believe and buy in. It’s just that belief that we’re never out of it. They had a great attitude coming off the win the other day, and they just built off of that today,” Reed said. “We’re trying to just put one win after another and get started on a roll. I know a lot of teams win early in the season and I told my team before the game, yeah, that’s great, but putting it together at the end of the season is what really counts.”
What’s next: Vineland hosts Seneca on Saturday at 4 p.m. Mainland hosts Holy Spirit on Monday at 4 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays