Union, NJ- It took Donovan Catholic 28 years to reach the NJSIAA State Championship game and after the first inning of nerves, they showed that they belonged.  In the Non Public A Championship game the #9 seeded Griffins battled #1 seeded and defending champion Immaculate Heart to the very end and fell short by a score of 2-1.

The Griffins grew up this season and set the stage for years to come.  Coach Debbie Schwartz threw out a lineup that included 5 freshman and 4 sophomore's with senior Emilie Zuhowski splitting time with one of the freshman in right field.  Most teams that run out a lineup this young would be content with rebuilding and not setting their sights on division titles, county title, sectional titles or state titles, but that is just what this group bought into.

Donovan Catholic's 1-2 combination of freshman pitcher Lindsay Nelson and sophomore catcher Kati Vazquez (photo Eric Braun)

Since the third inning of the OCT Championship game in which they lost to Jackson Liberty 9-7, Donovan Catholic has come together as a unit and became one driven on the road to success. After falling behind 9-1 in the fourth inning against Liberty, the Griffins have outscored their opponents 41-12 enroute to an 8-2 record during the 10-game stretch.

Senior Zuhowski afterwards could not be prouder to part of this run "I am so proud of this group, just getting to this point is such a huge deal for us and to know that they have years of success ahead of them is awesome."

Donovan Catholic's Senior Emilie Zuhowski shares a moment with her teammates before the start of the NJSIAA Non Public A final (photo Eric Braun)

After arriving at Kean University at around 1:30 thinking they would be starting within the hour, the Griffins and IHA learned that the game before theirs was just starting and the two teams would have to wait nearly two plus hours before their first pitch.  But once the two teams took the field, the veteran Blue Eagles went right at the youngsters from Donovan Catholic in the first inning.

After the Griffins went down in order in the top of the first on three straight strikeouts, IHA went to work.  Reece Guevarra leadoff getting hit on an inside pitch from Lindsay Nelson, than Taylor Kenerson reached safely on a perfectly placed bunt and than Emilie Cieslak singled under the outstretched glove of Mya Lamicella scoring both runners for the only runs of the game for the Blue Eagles.  In the inning the freshman ace for coach Schwartz gave up two runs on 3 hits, stranded two runners and struck out one.

From that point on the combination of Nelson and sophomore cathcer Kati Vazquez dialed up a great 1-2 combination and kept one of the state's dominating offense's off balance.  After the first inning, the Blue Eagles only had three more hits in the game with 2 in the second inning and 1 in the fifth inning.  Nelson struck out 6 and walked only one and gave her squad a chance to get back into this one and they gave it valiant effort.

Once the dust settled at the end of the game Nelson who pitched her way into one of the top pitchers not only at the Shore Conference but also the State level, added "we are a little down right now but we never quit and that is something we can be proud of and build on...we were confident we could come in here and play with them and pull the upset however we came up a little short but I am very excited for next year, it was a crazy, awesome, great run and I am just happy to be a part of this program.

Donovan Catholic made some noise in the top of the fourth inning with two outs.  After a flyout to third and a strike out, Vasquez laced a single past Cieslak and stole second during the next at bat to Amanda MacBurnie.  McBurnie got the Griffins on the board on an infield single to second that Vasquez hustled from the start and slid in safely to cut the lead to 2-1.

Donovan Catholic's Kati Vazquez slides in safely for the Griffins only run of the game (photo Eric Braun)

For the next three innings Donovan Catholic played like the veteran group and held the Immaculate Heart to 1-2-3 innings in the fourth and sixth innings, giving themselves a shot at tying and taking the lead.  In the fifth inning Donovan reached base with a bunt from Lamicella that was thrown over the head of Sonia Sharma covering first and then a double to the wall from Alexa Pagano setup runners at second and third with two outs but could not capitalize.

Again in the sixth inning the Griffins would get runners on second and third this time with one out but failed on a bunt attempt that was popped up and then a strikeout to end the threat.  In the seventh inning Lamicella lead off with a double to left field but once again the Griffins could not get that one timely hit and Donovan Catholic magical run ended in the finals with a 2-1 loss.

Coach Schwartz afterwards commented "its huge the great run they earned layers of experience….this was a huge stage and we were a little sloppy and overwhelmed in the first and we fought back and never quit…just could not get the one big hit, but its a game of inches but i am so proud of this team and we showed we will battle with anyone…they grew up in front of everyone on the biggest stage."

To reach the NJSIAA Non Public A Championship game the Griffins had to go through perennial state powers in Immaculata, Saint John Vianney, Red Bank Catholic and beat Notre Dame for their first ever NJSIAA Sectional title.  Also during that stretch they beat Jackson Liberty for the division title and battled eventual SCT Champions Middletown North in the SCT semi's before losing 2-0.

This now veteran group has a bright future ahead of them for the coming years and will be certain to be heard of again.

BOX SCORE:

TEAM 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 F H E
Donovan Catholic 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 5 0
Immaculate Heart 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 5 2
                     
RBI'S
Donovan Catholic (1) MacBurnie
Immaculate Heart (2) Cieslak
Doubles
Donovan Catholic (1) Lamicella and Pagano
Pitching   IP H K BB HP R ER
Donovan Catholic Nelson 6 5 6 1 1 2 2
Immaculate Heart  Sprofera 7 5 14 1 0 1 1
Donovan Catholic pre-game talk (photo Eric Braun)
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