St. John Vianney was making solid contact against Immaculate Heart Academy pitcher Steph Thomas in the first three innings during the NJSIAA Non-Public A Championship Game on Sunday at Toms River High School North.
However, the Lancers needed a key hit. They needed a spark.
Junior Kate Baron provided both the key hit and the spark in the bottom of the fourth when she led off with a booming home run to left center.
The Lancers, who were trailing by two runs after 3½ innings, then scored another run in the fourth and one in both the fifth and sixth innings and recorded a 4-2 win.
It was St. John Vianney’s third state championship in the last four seasons, sixth overall and avenged a loss to IHA in last year’s Non-Public A state championship game.
“That (Baron’s homer) got into heads,” said junior left-hander Katie Beriont, who pitched a complete-game four-hitter and struck out 12. “It was a wake-up call and told us, ‘We can do this. We need to work together’. Thanks, Katie (Baron) for starting us up.”
When she made contact, Baron did not think she had hit a homer.
“It was like a line drive. When I saw it over the fence, I was like, ‘Wow,’ ” Baron said.
The Lancers (29-2) had four hits against Thomas (29-2) in the first three innings, but three of them had come with two out, including two in the third.
“She (Baron) just pulled the team right up from the ground. It was great,” said senior center fielder Amanda Durham.
Erica Krumbine followed Baron’s homer with a single to left.
Then, the Lancers went to the bunt game.
Sophomore left fielder Claire Stefanelli, who went 3-for-3, pushed a bunt past Thomas for a single.
Two batters later, with runners on first and second, Marlena Bevilacqua bunted down the third base line. Krumbine scored the tying run when the ball was thrown down the left field line in an attempt to get Krumbine at third base.
“Bunting is always important in the game of softball. You can always catch people on their toes,” Durham said.
The bunt game played a major role in St. John Vianney taking the lead in the fifth.
Beriont led off with an infield single. Caitlyn Kelly came in as a courtesy runner for Beriont and she moved to third when the throw on Baron’s sacrifice bunt went off the second baseman’s glove at first base.
Stefanelli drove in Kelly with a single off shortstop Daniella Ibarra’s glove with the infield drawn in and runners on second and third.
Durham’s legs and savvy added a key insurance run in the sixth when she led off with a single to left, went from first to third on Jackie Gallagher’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Helena Coppola’s sacrifice fly to left.
Once her team gave her the lead, Beriont (26-2) shut the door like one would expect from a pitcher of her quality. She struck out five over the final two innings, including one where a runner reached on a strikeout passed ball. She ended the game with a strikeout of cleanup batter Angelina McGuire with a runner on first.
Beriont struggled some in the first two innings because she was getting used to the strike zone of the home plate umpire. But, once she figured out what was going to be called a strike and what was not going to be called a strike, she settled in.
IHA, which scored both its runs in the first on a two-out two-run single to right by Rachel Pollard, had just two hits the final six innings and five base runners the final five innings.
“It was not so much the strike zone. It was figuring out the batters and what were their strengths, and their weaknesses and what were my strengths and weaknesses at that time, and I guess working with the umpire, too,” Beriont said.
Beriont did have to get out of a first-and-second, two-out jam in the fifth when she struck out the dangerous Pollard swinging. Pollard had singled her first two times up.
“She got stronger as the game went on. I could not be prouder of her,” Durham said.
Sunday’s result gave the Lancers a third championship on the season. They also won the Shore Conference Class A Central and Monmouth County Tournament titles. It also erased the memory of their loss to Toms River East in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game.
“This team is a special team,” said St. John Vianney coach Kim Lombardi. “They don’t want to lose. They don’t want to see their last game. They play together. They’re sisters and friends on and off the field. I want to coach them forever.”
SJ Vianney 4, IHA 2
|SJ Vianney (29-2)||0||0||0||2||1||1||x||–||4||10||1|
HR: (SJV) Baron. WP: Beriont (26-2). LP: Thomas (29-2).