The Sacred Heart High School softball team conquered the top of the mountain.
The Lions captured the program’s first-ever state title Saturday with a 3-1 victory over Immaculate Conception-Lodi in the Non-Public B championship Saturday at Toms River North.
Sacred Heart, which finished its season at 27-6, posed for team photographs after the game with each player wanting a touch of the elusive state championship trophy.
“Winning a state title was the only goal for this team,” said senior third baseman Rachel Gavigan, the leader and heart-and-soul of the squad. “Every second, every minute and every hour that we worked was for this game and to win it is the ultimate reward. There isn’t a better feeling than this.”
“This is so special, I’m ecstatic,” junior left fielder Lindsay Dwyer said. “This team has that special bond. I knew we were going to do it. I’m so proud of this team.”
Sacred Heart coach Les Olson came up with the rallying cry of “85 miles to the top of the mountain,” the same distance to Toms River, four years ago. Saturday was the first time since 2004 the Lions made the trip.
“We took that 85-mile journey (Saturday) morning and it was certainly worthwhile. This is a very special group,” he said.
After tossing a no-hitter in Tuesday’s sectional final, sophomore pitcher Rosie LaGrotta twirled a one-hitter against the Blue Wolves, retiring the final 19 batters she faced.
“It’s really exciting, I’m just speechless right now,” LaGrotta said.
LaGrotta wasn’t overpowering, but her command was pinpoint and lethal. She served up a heavy diet of drops and drop-curves that were pounded into the ground by the opposing hitters. LaGrotta didn’t record a strikeout, but induced 12 outs on the ground and only walked one.
LaGrotta allowed a swinging-bunt single to the leadoff batter for Immaculate Conception’s lone hit. She retired the side in order six straight times to end the game. Over her final 14 innings of the season, she allowed one hit and recorded two shutouts in four postseason starts.
“Rosie’s ridiculous,” said her sophomore batterymate Danielle Lugo. “She doesn’t get rattled. She keeps her cool no matter what.”
“She stays so focused,” Gavigan said about the ace pitcher. “She believes in our defense. She gets the groundballs and we will get her the outs.”
Many of the players admitted that they were nervous at game time, playing in the biggest game of their young careers. Not surprisingly they got off to a shaky start when nerves appeared to cause two errors and produced an Immaculate Conception run.
However, the Lions escaped the first with minimal damage, leaving the bases loaded and trailing 1-0.
“To get through that inning with only one run across was key for us,” Olson said “That lifted us up.”
One could sense the confidence building in the Lions as LaGrotta began to mow down the opposition. It increased when Gavigan tied the game in the third, roping a shot off the center-field fence for an RBI double, scoring Samantha Caterina.
“We were all nervous, what can you expect it’s the state championship,” Gavigan said. “But we settled down and got better with each inning. By the seventh inning, we were playing our best ball.”
In the sixth, Tori Caterina coaxed a bases-loaded walk and freshman Kelly Hullihen delivered an RBI single for a 3-1 lead.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, LaGrotta got Danielle Distal to hit a soft liner to second baseman Samantha Caterina to end the game.
The final out touched off a wild celebration as the Lions piled up right around the pitching circle.
“Amazing, just amazing,” said an emotional Lugo. “We wanted this title so badly for R.G. and coach. This was for them.”
Non-Public B State Final
Sacred Heart (27-6) 3,
Immaculate Conception-Lodi (26-6)
WP: Rosie LaGrotta. LP: Kelly Hage. 2B: SH-Rachel Gavigan.