Donovan Dynasty: Griffins Repeat as No. 1 Softball Team in New Jersey
Once again, the Donovan Catholic softball program stands alone at the top of the Garden State.
Over the course of a weekend that was equal parts drama and dominance, the Griffins captured their second consecutive NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title to finish the season as the undisputed No. 1 in New Jersey.
On Sunday at Ivy Hill Park on the campus of Seton Hall University, Donovan Catholic scored a mind-boggling 17 runs in the bottom of the third inning and rolled to an 18-5 victory over Livingston in the T.O.C. final. Earlier in the day, the Griffins edged Group 1 champion Clayton, 3-2, in the semifinals.
Donovan and Livingston, the Group 4 state champion, were locked in a scoreless tie before the Griffins batted around twice, sent a total of 23 hitters to the plate, and plated a whopping 17 runs on 10 hits in the third inning. Julia Apostolakos was 3-for-3 with three RBI in the third inning alone, while Charlotte Dwyer had a two-run double, Alice DeWaters and Alexis Letizia each had two-run singles, and Adriana Romano scored three times.
Livingston responded with five runs in the top of the fourth inning and Donovan added another run in the bottom of the fourth. The game was called via mercy rule after the top of the fifth with Donovan leading by 13 runs.
In the circle, Apostolakos struck out four and allowed three earned runs on eight hits.
In the semifinals, the Griffins built a 3-0 lead after four innings and held on for a 3-2 victory over the Clippers. Romano pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowed one earned run on five hits, and struck out 12. Apostolakos entered in the sixth inning and closed out Clayton with four strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings of relief to send Donovan back to the T.O.C. championship game.
While the offensive explosion – even by Donovan’s standard – in the championship game will take its rightful place in Griffins softball lore, the victory in the Non-Public A state final has already taken on legendary status.
Donovan Catholic was trailing 7-4 and down to its final strike against Immaculate Heart Academy in the Non-Public A final before Romano delivered the ultimate clutch hit, smacking a game-tying, three-run home run over the center-field fence to tie the game at seven. In the top of the 10th inning, Emily Kurth hit a sacrifice fly that plated Alyssa Apruzzi with the go-ahead run and Romano closed out IHA in the bottom half of the inning to give the Griffins the dramatic victory. It also avenged Donovan’s only loss of the season, a 4-2 setback to IHA on May 15.
Romano, a senior, was 3-for-4 with six RBI and two runs scored and also pitched the final five innings, allowing one run one and striking out eight.
Under veteran head coach Debbie Schwartz, the Griffins finished the season with a 29-1 record and five championship trophies. They rolled to another Class B South division title, won the Shore Conference Tournament title, the Non-Public South A sectional title and then the Non-Public A state championship and finally the T.O.C. crown.
In the SCT final, the Griffins rallied for a 3-2 victory over Colts Neck for their second conference title in the last three seasons. Donovan was ranked No. 1 in NJ and Colts Neck was ranked No. 6 at the time, and the Cougars would go on to win the Group 3 state title and also reach the T.O.C.
Donovan’s run to the sectional title included 10-0 victories over Camden Catholic and St. John Vianney in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, respectively, before Romano threw a complete-game one-hitter with 10 strikeouts in a 2-0 win over St. Thomas Aquinas in the sectional title game.
The record, championships and end result are even more impressive when you consider Donovan was able to repeat with an entirely new team. The 2019 team went 30-2 and won the T.O.C title with a 10-0 victory over Cedar Grove but lost several seniors to graduation and then the rest of the significant contributors to graduation after last season was canceled due to COVID-19.
A year away from the diamond may have changed the names on the lineup card, but the name at the very top of the state softball landscape remains the same. When it comes to high school softball in New Jersey, Donovan Catholic reigns supreme.