WEST DEPTFORD – The faithful in navy blue whistled, yelled and cheered as Gloucester’s ace toed the rubber in the bottom of the seventh inning.
If the Lions were to capture the Tri-County Conference’s Classic Division title, pitcher Maddy Chain needed a final out.
If they wanted to snap a nine-year losing streak to their bitter rival Gloucester Catholic, the runners had to be stranded.
The fans screamed out for Chain as they have all year. She’s the one who butters Gloucester’s bread.
She obliged with a key final out to secure the 3-2 win and dust off a complete game.
With two outs and Gloucester Catholic runners on first and second, Chain faced Rams’ three-hole hitter Angela Antonini.
She delivered a pitch inside. Antonini popped out to shortstop.
It didn’t take long before the girls in blue swarmed their star pitcher in celebration.
“She was crowding the plate,” Chain said. “I figured we’d throw inside. She just took it up into the wind.”
The Lions (17-3, 11-0), ranked No. 3 in the Courier-Post Top 15, mobbed Chain as she sobbed with joy.
“We haven’t beaten them since 2005,” the senior ace said. “It feels great to accomplish one of your goals.”
Gloucester Catholic (11-6, 8-3) struck first early when Allison McCarthy drove in Antonini in the bottom of the first.
In the bottom half of the frame, Gloucester took the lead back.
With runners on first and second, Devon Seibert laid down a sacrfice bunt. McCarthy, who rushed in from third, missed her throw to first.
Rachel Tomlin slid in under right fielder Brittany Short’s throw home.
If the tight rivalry game wasn’t reason enough, the crowd was whipped into a frenzy two batters later.
Nicky Velez’ RBI single down the third-base line plated Myranda McCabe to make it 2-1.
The play — and top half of the second — ended with Seibert thrown out at home.
Lions fans screamed for an obstruction call on McCarthy at third. Rams fans yelled the ball was foul.
The tension woke the fans in the chilly evening conditions. Each side got louder as the game wore on.
“I knew from my five years here as an assistant. I knew going in, it would be tight,” Gloucester Catholic first-year head coach Kiersten Hughes said. “I tried to keep my girls’ heads in it.”
Gloucester held the 2-1 lead until the fifth when Alexa Barton increased it.
Barton hit a 1-1 pitch through the hole between third and shortstop to score Rayanee Castagna.
“I got a lot of outside pitches all game,” Barton said. “I just went with it.”
Chain got the side in order in the bottom of the frame. The Lions stayed pat in the top of the sixth.
The Rams cut the deficit in half in their next at bat when McCarthy scored on a passed ball.
After a quiet top half of the seventh, Chain locked up Antonini in crunch time for the win.
“This is only going to make us better for tomorrow,” the pitcher said of her team’s matchup against Palmyra in the South Jersey Group 1 playoffs Thursday at 4 p.m. “I just had to dig deep. I knew they were a great hitting team so I had to pitch around them.”
She finished with five strikeouts in the complete-game win.
The other first-year head coach in the matchup, Megan Mason described what the win meant.
“I don’t know if it’s that we hate each other,” Mason said. “We just have a lot of respect for each other.
“It feels good (to beat them) with this team. A lot of these girls have played four years and really wanted to do that.”
Even without a losing streak or a division title on the line, Mason admitted the win meant more than the previous 16.
“Uh, yeah. This one feels a lot better than any other game,” she said.
The rivals will quickly renew acquaintances Saturday at 6 p.m. at Gloucester.
Mark Trible; (856) 486-2424; email@example.com
GLOUCESTER CATHOLIC 2
• Player of the game: Senior pitcher Maddy Chain went all seven innings and struck out five in the Lions’ win.
• Play of the game: With two outs and a runner in scoring position, Chain got Angela Antonini to pop out and end the game.
• Well said: “Uh, yeah. This one feels alot better than any other game.” — Gloucester first-year coach Megan Mason