When the Vineland High School softball team needed a big play to be made, right fielder Kayla Rodriguez stepped up and completed the task.
Sacred Heart and Buena weren’t as fortunate at converting at crucial times.
Thanks to a sparking catch by Rodriguez, the Fighting Clan survived a 4-3 decision over Gloucester County Tech and went on to play solid softball in a 5-0 quarterfinal win over Pennsville Sunday afternoon at the Hammonton Invitational.
“Games like this against top teams, it comes down to who can make the huge play,” Vineland coach Alex Gomez said. “Our right fielder, Kayla Rodriguez, made a huge play and we moved on.”
Vineland (7-3) will play Shawnee in Saturday’s semifinal round at 1 p.m. at Hammonton. The championship game is slated for 3 p.m.
The Lions suffered a heart-wrenching 8-7 loss in the opening round to the host team while the Chiefs were eliminated in the quarterfinal round with a 4-2 defeat to top-ranked Washington Township.
Cumberland and Delsea, the area’s other two squads in the 16-team field, were also bounced from the tournament in the opening round.
Vineland didn’t look like it was going to escape the first round either as the Fighting Clan trailed 1-0 going into the sixth against GCIT.
For a team that has recently struggled late in games, Vineland picked up the pace in the final two frames, collecting seven hits and four runs.
Bryanna Luciano delivered the first big knock in the sixth, a two-run single to center, and Brigitte Garvey roped a two-run double to center in the seventh. The GCIT outfielder tried to make a play on both balls, but couldn’t complete the catch on either.
After GCIT cut the lead to 4-2 on a homer to lead off the seventh and drew a walk to bring the tying run to the plate, Rodriguez made a great running catch tight to the line and quickly fired the ball to the infield to complete the double play.
“That saved the whole game,” Vineland pitcher Demi Murray said. “If she doesn’t make that great catch, I don’t know if we win the game.”
The Cheetahs pulled within 4-3 and had the tying run on second base when Murray fanned the final hitter to move on.
Vineland had a much easier time against Pennsville as it pushed across all five runs in the second inning, highlighted by RBI singles from Jalene Garcia and Garvey.
That’s all Murray needed. While her arsenal was scaled back to just a fastball and change-up, the senior southpaw still managed to toss a five-hitter in the nightcap.
“That was weird huh?” Gomez said about having some rare breathing room in a game. “Demi pitched a great game and we got the runs when we needed them.”
Murray, who was in the circle when Vineland advanced to the championship final of the tournament in 2011, said the team is pumped to be in position for a title run.
“It would mean so much if we were able to win the whole thing, this is a big tournament, the best teams are here,” she said.
■ After a 4-1 win over Gloucester in the opening round, Buena gave top-ranked Washington Township all it could handle in the quarterfinals.
The Chiefs collected nine hits off of Taylor Coroneos, including eight in the final four innings. However, the team had two rallies cut short with runners thrown out at the plate.
Becca Collins’ RBI single in the fourth tied the game at 1-1 and, after Washington Township scored three in its half of the fourth, Carly Linus got one back with an RBI single.
Buena left the bases loaded in the fifth when a hot shot by Lynnsie Collins up the middle was denied when Township second baseman Alyssa Petner made a nice play and flip to second for the final out.
“I thought we did a nice job adjusting to their pitcher later in the game,” Buena coach Pam Pickett said. “We’ve just got a couple of areas we need to work on right now. We’re a little too aggressive on the bases and that’s on me.”
■ Sacred Heart, which was considered one of the favorites at the tournament, rallied from a 6-3 deficit in the sixth inning, but couldn’t finish off the victory against Hammonton.
“It was great that we came back, we showed a lot of heart, that’s why it’s in our name,” catcher Danielle Lugo said. “But teams are coming after us this year, they’re coming at us and are ready to play.”
The Lions had a runner at third with no outs in both the seventh and eighth innings, but couldn’t push a run across.
Sacred Heart committed three errors in the sixth inning, opening the door for Hammonton to score four unanswered runs.
“They made the plays when they had to and we didn’t,” Sacred Heart coach Les Olson said.
After Hammonton went up 6-3, Sacred Heart stormed back with four runs of its own in the sixth. Samantha Caterina collected a two-run double and Gabby Castellini delivered a two-run, go-ahead double.
■ Cumberland was held to three hits in its loss, including a run-scoring double by Jackie Martin in the seventh.
Delsea only mustered two hits in its loss to Shawnee. Julia Voluntad struck out 10 and gave up five hits, including a long two-run homer in the seventh.