There was a slight cause for concern Thursday, when the Park Ridge softball team didn’t have the smoothest of warm-ups.

But when it came time to play, when the Owls couldn’t afford to make a mistake, they were more than ready. And that’s kind of the way it’s been all season.

“When there’s pressure, when there’s nerves, it just makes it so much more exciting,” senior Cailyn Lavender said. “We play better that way.”

Park Ridge needed only six innings to cruise to a 10-0 win over Cresskill in the quarterfinals of the North 1, Group 1 state tournament. The second-seeded Owls will host No. 6 Saddle Brook in the semifinals Tuesday.

Park Ridge had been looking forward to the Cresskill game in a big way.

“I woke up [Thursday] morning and was like, ‘I don’t even want to go to school, I just can’t wait to play this game,’ ” Lavender said. “We all felt that way.”

It showed, as the Owls never lacked a sense of urgency.

Pitcher Claudia Bonvicino got it all started. The junior retired nine of the first 10 batters she faced and only allowed two hits on the afternoon.

“She’s been working really hard,” Park Ridge coach Cindy Turner said. “And there’s been a change in her overall confidence.”

Bonvicino has struggled at times, but some recent work with her pitching coach has paid off in a big way: Bonvicino has allowed only one run in the last six games.

The defense has also come a long way since the beginning of the year. It was on display Thursday, as Cresskill had several hard-hit balls. But the Owls were decisive and error-free.

“It’s so great to have that kind of defense behind you,” Bonvicino said. “And having some runs on the board [early], it just makes everything a lot easier.”

Park Ridge’s offense was on from the beginning, scoring eight runs in the first three innings to put the game out of reach. Lavender led the way, finishing 3-for-4 with two RBI. Kelly Frasciello also drove in two runs and Kelsey Wimmershoff went 2-for-3 with an RBI.

After squeaking by Cresskill, 1-0, on Saturday, the Owls seem to be hitting their stride when the games matter most. They host Midland Park today in a 4 p.m. game that will help decide the NJIC Patriot B title.

“This team is getting the confidence now,” Turner said. “It’s really kicking in. And hopefully, we can keep it up.”

From The Record