St. John Vianney softball edges Mount St. Dominic in thriller to win Non-Public A state title
UNION TOWNSHIP – The wait has spanned five long years, but on Saturday night St. John Vianney’s softball team once again brought home a state championship.
The Lancers scored two runs in the second inning and sophomore pitcher Julia Parker made them stand up with a clutch and composed performance in the circle as St. John Vianney defeated Mount St. Dominic Academy, 2-1, to claim the NJSIAA Non-Public A state title at Kean University.
Mount St. Dominic made Parker dig deep on more than one occasion by producing seven hits and putting seven runners in scoring position, but it never fazed her. The final inning tested both Parker’s skill and poise as the Lions put the tying run on third and the winning run on second with one out, but she was able to get a pop-out to third base and finally a groundout to shortstop Lindsey Baron to secure St. John Vianney’s seventh state championship and first since 2013.
“It was pretty stressful, especially with runners in scoring position, and I knew I just needed to get the next batter out,” Parker said.
“The final out, I just beelined to tackle her,” said junior catcher Ally Jones. “It was so surreal.”
The Lancers (27-0) took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning and Parker needed just one pitch to induce a pop up to shortstop for the first out, but Mount St. Dominic was not going to go that quietly. Leadoff hitter Alexa Raphael doubled to left-center field to put the tying run in scoring position and Dani Dabroski followed with a single to left field. Left fielder Gillian Zack got to the ball quickly to prevent Raphael from scoring but Dabroski was able to move to second on the throw home.
Parker now had to face MSDA’s No. 3 hitter and Fordham recruit Sarah Taffet in the most pressure-packed moment of her young career. Taffet worked the count to 2-0 but Parker jammed her on the next pitch to get her to pop out to Jess Campana at third for the second out. Cleanup hitter Allison Winters then stepped to the plate looking to play the role of hero. After missing inside with her first pitch, Parker got Winters to hit a ground ball to Baron, who fired a strike to Haley Ahr at first to beat a diving Winters and set off a wild celebration.
“It was pretty incredible,” Parker said. “It’s so exhilarating.”
Parker tight-roping out of trouble in the bottom of the seventh to win a state title for the Lancers will be the prevailing memory, but it wasn’t the only time she had to buckle down and record a critical out. After St. John Vianney took the lead in the top of the second inning, Mount St. Dominic put runners on second and third with one out following a walk by Kasey Sekula and a double by opposing pitcher Julianna Kocenski that bounced one-hop off the left-center field wall. Parker was able to strike out the No. 8 and No. 9 hitters to get out of the second inning unscathed.
Raphael led off the bottom of the third inning with a single, stole second and went to third on a groundout, but Parker was able to get a groundout to third and a flyout to right field to end the inning. Raphael was on base again in the fifth inning, this time with SJV holding a one-run lead, thanks to a one-out single and once again stole second and went to third on a groundout. Parker was able to strike out Taffet to strand the tying run at third. In the sixth inning, Parker worked around a one-out single by Kayla Oh to keep the Lancers in front.
“We talked about what we were going to do in the preseason and I told her if she can hit her spots and be a workhorse out there she is going to win a state championship this year,” said St. John Vianney head coach Kim Lombardi. “She’s unbelievable on the mound, so determined, and I think she’s harder to hit when runners are in scoring position. I can’t say enough good things about her. She really is an amazing pitcher.”
“We practice and practice these situations so when she comes out on the field she’s ready to do it,” Jones said. “And she is an unbelievable pitcher. We try to provide her, as a defense, the most confidence we can, and she was able to bear down, focus and really get the job done today.”
St. John Vianney scored its two runs in the top of the second inning, starting with a leadoff walk by right fielder Gabby Polera. Alexis Agrapides then executed a successful sacrifice bunt to move Polera to second base. Kocenski recorded a strikeout for the second out, but Jones delivered an RBI single to left field to score Polera. Jones moved to second on the throw and Zack then brought home courtesy runner Charley Baker with the second run. The throw actually beat Baker to the plate but a good slide forced the catcher to reach to apply the tag and the ball popped loose.
“(Baker) is a huge impact baserunner for us, she’s won us so many games between last year and this year,” Lombardi said. “She wasn’t even going to play this year because she’s a very, very smart student and I asked her, ‘Charley, can you come out and just run the bases for us? That’s a huge part of our game and you can be the reason that we win.’ That’s why she got a game ball today.”
Lombardi was aggressive sending both runners home, a decision that certainly paid off.
“Those might have been my only two situations – and they were – to score all game,” Lombardi said. “I’m going to do that every time. You have to take chances in a big game and that made the difference between winning and losing today.”
MSDA got on the board and cut SJV’s lead to 2-1 when Kocenski boomed a home run over the left-center field fence with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Parker was able to regroup and record a strikeout to end the inning.
Kocenski had a double and a home run to her credit when she came to the plate with two outs and a runner on first in the bottom of the sixth. It was an easy decision for Lombardi to issue an intentional walk even if it meant putting the tying run at second base. At that point, the MSDA No. 8 and No. 9 hitters were 0-for-4 with four strikeouts again Parker.
“(Kocenski) is not a typical No. 7 batter, she’s more like a 4-5 hitter, maybe even a 3,” Lombardi said. “She was seeing Julia really well today so why even give her that opportunity.”
St. John Vianney is the Shore Conference’s flagship softball program, but a state title drought by its standards, including consecutive losses to new rival Donovan Catholic in the South Jersey Non-Public A sectional final, had the Lancers hungry for redemption. They defeated Donovan Catholic, 2-0, behind a gem from Parker on Thursday before Saturday night’s state championship victory.
“We’d lost to Donovan Catholic in the sectional finals two years in a row so to be able to beat them and then come to the state championship and beat Mount St. Dominic, you can’t describe the moment,” Jones said.
“We needed to get the monkey off our back,” Lombardi said. “We needed to do this. I’ve been waiting five long years and losing at the end of the season, to me, is deflating. I don’t just coach high school softball as a paycheck, this is what I love to do. I love my girls. I’m not saying we work harder than everybody but, in my opinion, we work harder than everybody. They stayed focused and they gave me everything this year. Great crew.”
The NJSIAA Tournament of Champions begins on Tuesday with the quarterfinal games, continues Wednesday with the semifinals and concludes with the T.O.C. final on Friday. The seeds are still pending the results of Sunday’s four remaining state championship games, but the Lancers will more than likely be the top seed and earn a bye into the semifinals. First, however, they’ll have to tangle with Donovan Catholic again in Monday’s Shore Conference Tournament final.
“I’m going to say the hard part is done - getting to a state championship - and we were able to do it and that’s such an accomplishment,” Jones said. “From here on out it’s about having fun, playing our game and staying confident.”
“We’re super excited, but we’ll take it one game at a time,” Lombardi said. “Now we’re focused on Donovan Catholic on Monday.”
St. John Vianney 2, Mount St. Dominic Academy 1
SJV (27-0) 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 – 2 2 0
MSD (25-8) 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 – 1 7 0
WP: Julia Parker
LP: Julianna Kocenski
2B – MSD: Julianna Kocenski, Alexa Raphael
HR – MSD: Julianna Kocenski.
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