This season has been a pleasurable one for Wall head coach Tony Vodola.
Following last season’s disappointing loss in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III quarterfinals, the goal this season was to win the sectional title and make a run at Championship Saturday in Toms River.
But with several freshmen entering the lineup this spring, including pitcher Jackie Howarth, Vodola wasn’t certain how things would play out.
“What’s been really nice this season was how everything just came together with this group of girls,” he said. “These girls really treat each other like sisters, like they’re all part of a family. They look out for each other. They play hard for each other. They want each other to be successful. And it starts with the seniors.”
And there’s no doubt seniors Sydney Canessa, Chickie Clayton, Katie Kilgallen and Kirby Marron will be leading the charge in Sunday’s Group III championship, in which the Crimson Knights (25-4) will meet up with Bergen County power Indian Hills (31-3) at 3 p.m. at Toms River High School North.
“It makes things easy when you have leaders like them,” Vodola said. “They’ve done an amazing job of bringing along the younger kids, teaching them how we do things, getting them prepared for every game, and most importantly, keeping their heads up and not letting them get down.”
Beating the Braves, winners of North 1 Section 1 titles twice during the past four seasons, isn’t going to be an easy task. Indian Hills seniors Kristen Waters, Nicole Paiotti and Lindsay Pagano were all part of the program when the Braves went 33-2 and won the Group III title in 2010, and junior pitcher Devin Durando this season is 29-3 with 343 strikeouts and a 0.71 ERA.
But the Crimson Knights have a more than capable lineup that in recent weeks has put together a string of impressive wins since getting knocked off early in the Shore Conference Tournament. Wins over Allentown (1-0), Nottingham (6-5) and Gloucester Tech (5-3 in eight innings) have proven Wall can win the tight games with the pressure on.
Against Nottingham, Wall’s bats came alive in the bottom of the seventh when they scored four times to erase a 5-2 deficit. Against Gloucester Tech in the state semifinals on Tuesday, the Crimson Knights scored twice in the top of the ninth to advance to the state final.
“We don’t give up in a game and we don’t give up on each other, like a true family,” Canessa said. “Getting to the state championship game just shows how much all that hard work we put in pays off. It takes a whole team, and everybody in our dugout got us to this point.”
And the Crimson Knights again will have to rely on the whole team, including Howarth, who’s 18-3 with a 1.75 ERA this season, right fielder Emily Mowen, who delivered a home run and leadoff double in the ninth on Tuesday, and Casey DeSarno, who has been solid at third base all season.
Junior catcher Dani Petrone, junior center fielder Amanda Pringle and sophomore left fielder Katie Wingel will need to be at their best on Sunday as well, and Vodola believes that will be the case.
“I always ask the girls, ‘Who controls the game?’ We control what we do on the field and it takes all the kids to believe that,” he said. “And these girls don’t worry about failure. They believe in completion. I have all the faith in the world in these kids, because they have the right attitude, they know how to make things happen, and they know how to succeed. And whether they win or lose, that doesn’t change with them.”