Like all high school sports, softball is an extension to the classroom because lessons are learned while playing.
Last season’s 3-0 loss to Immaculate Heart Academy in the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship taught the younger players on St. John Vianney’s squad a lesson.
“I think we were a little overconfident,” said senior center fielder and leadoff batter Amanda Durham, the team’s captain. “This year, we started back down on the bottom and had to work our way up. And I think that was good for us.”
After winning two straight Non-Public A titles and making a third straight appearance in the championship, the Lancers were looking to make it two straight against IHA last spring, after knocking off the Blue Eagles, 10-2, to capture the crown in 2011. But a three-run third inning gave IHA the only lead it needed, and the Lancers couldn’t manage to push a run across despite multiple opportunities.
“After last year’s championship, there was a feeling of ‘woulda, shoulda, coulda,’ especially for our offense,” said head coach Kim Lombardi. “It definitely taught us a lesson that opportunities in big games are the time to step up. When we get opportunities, we’ve got to get the job done somehow.”
On Sunday, the Lancers (28-2) again will meet up with the Blue Eagles (31-1) with a Non-Public A title on the line. The two squads are slated to take the field at Toms River High School North at 5 p.m. The game originally was slated for today, but the NJSIAA postponed all baseball and softball games until Sunday due to heavy rain across the state on Friday.
But even if the field is in playable shape by Sunday afternoon, opportunities may not be plentiful for either team given the pitchers in their respective circles — junior Kate Beriont for SJV and junior Steph Thomas for IHA.
Both pitchers have been highly effective for their teams throughout the season. With a record of 29-1, Thomas has been stellar, allowing only eight earned runs through 187 innings and 233 strikeouts. Meanwhile, Beriont has gone 25-2, allowing 13 earned runs through 1611⁄3 innings and 216 strikeouts.
Each team also has its share of impact players who can alter the game at any moment.
For IHA, Daniella Ibarra has 52 hits and 25 RBI this season and Thomas had 35 hits and 20 RBI. But from leadoff batter Ally Vegona clear down to No. 8 batter Natalie Keller, the offensive production doesn’t sway very far, with each batter having 25 or more hits for the season.
For the Lancers, No. 2 batter Jackie Gallagher has 50 hits and 40 RBI behind Durham, who has 40 hits and 27 RBI. And like the Blue Eagles, the rest of the Lancers’ lineup can do damage as well, especially Erica Krumbine (35 hits), Beriont (34 hits) and Kate Baron (30 hits). To date, only one batter in SJV’s lineup has less than 15 RBI.
“We’re going to have to prepare ourselves mentally,” Durham said. “And when it’s game time, we have to zone in on our pitches and believe we’re going to get the hits. Right now, we have to believe in ourselves. We both have good teams, so it’s going to be a battle.”
Lombardi said her players have to remember the feeling they had after last year’s loss, stay focused and be confident.
“Both teams are talented and both are going to be well-prepared,” Lombardi said. “Each team knows what the other one has, and this game is probably going to come down to a timely hit, a key mistake or a fat pitch.”