Most hitters don’t like getting behind in the count. But most hitters aren’t St. Anthony’s Jackie Morra.
"I know I hit best with two strikes," she said. "I knew [the pitcher] was coming back with another off-speed pitch. I took a shorter swing and remained calm."
But her 250-foot, one-out, three-run home run in the fourth inning had her Friar teammates anything but calm. The freshman shortstop’s no-doubt-about-it blast was the winning margin as top-seeded St. Anthony’s defeated No. 3 Sacred Heart, 5-2, in the Nassau-Suffolk CHSAA final at Our Lady of Mercy on Thursday.
"I told [first-base] coach [Steve] Steponitis that I believed in Jackie," said senior Bella Licata (2-for-3), who was on first base for Morra’s monster mash. "As soon as she hit the ball, I knew it was gone."
Usually, Morra bats second or third for St. Anthony’s. However, head coach Mike Massa and his staff made the decision to put Morra in the lead-off spot just a few minutes before the game.
"We figured put her up top and go right at [Sacred Heart]," he said. "That’s exactly what happened."
St. Anthony’s (20-2) scored twice in the second inning, including an infield, RBI-single from Morra that gave the Friars a 2-0 lead.
Sacred Heart (9-3) battled back with an unearned run in the top of the third inning, and chased starting pitcher Lia Fong after 2 ⅓ innings.
The Spartans scored again in the fourth off reliever and winning pitcher Mila Fiordalisi on a sacrifice fly by Haley Leimbach, who reached base three times in four at-bats.
But St. Anthony’s, as it did most of the season, battled back in the fourth when Jessica Pizzo got on base with a fielder’s choice. Licata added an infield single to bring Morra to the plate with one out. The bottom third of the Friars’ lineup went a combined 5-for-9 with three runs scored, including Ava Vandernoth who was 3-for-3.
After a called strike, Morra was early on an off-speed pitch that she smashed, but pulled foul, that brought the count to 0-and-2. Advantage, Morra.
"We call Jackie, ‘The Beast,’ " Steponitis said.
Massa added: "We were saying ’Let The Beast out!’ "
Even from behind in the count, she did. St. Anthony’s has now won the last three Nassau-Suffolk CHSAA titles: 2021, 2019 & 2018. There was no championship played in 2020 because of COVID-19.
"I’m happy to continue the St. Anthony’s tradition," Morra said. "I’m just so proud to be a part of it."