True Blue: Donovan Catholic pounds SJV in rematch to win SCT softball championship
RED BANK – Waiting three days for a rematch with the team that ended its state championship aspirations must have felt like an eternity for Donovan Catholic’s softball team. But with an opportunity at redemption in a championship setting, the Griffins did more than earn revenge. They made a statement.
Top-seeded Donovan Catholic walloped St. John Vianney, 13-4, on Monday night at Count Basie Park to capture the 2018 Shore Conference Tournament championship and conclude its season in style less than a week after losing to SJV in the NJSIAA Non-Public South A sectional final. The Griffins blew the game open with a seven-run first inning, pounding out 10 hits and socking three home runs in total. Every player had at least one hit and one run scored in an ultra-impressive showing against a St. John Vianney team that is the No. 1 seed in the upcoming NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.
“What we wanted to do was to prove we can play with anybody and we can make a statement,” said Donovan Catholic head coach Debbie Schwartz. “We had a hiccup last Thursday but we came out (tonight) and played Donovan Catholic softball. The kids played with passion and you saw a different team today.”
Sophomore first baseman Karina Gaskins went 2-for-2 with a majestic three-run home run, two walks and three runs scored while sophomore center fielder Jayda Kearney mashed a two-run home run and senior Amanda MacBurnie cracked a three-run bomb to ignite a Donovan offense that was shut out by St. John Vianney pitcher Julia Parker in the sectional final. This time, the Griffins didn’t let Parker get out of the first inning.
“We knew we had to come out strong and prove a point from the beginning,” MacBurnie said. “We planned on starting strong and that’s exactly what we did.”
“I think, with this score, we proved what we wanted to,” said senior shortstop Alexa Pagano, who went 2-for-4 with a run scored from the leadoff spot. “Every team has their ups and downs but I think we showed how much talent we have.”
When the two teams met last week, both entered the game undefeated with Donovan ranked No. 1 and St. John Vianney ranked No. 2 in the state. SJV won that game, 2-0, and then captured the Non-Public A state championship with a 2-1 victory over Mount St. Dominic. Donovan had won the previous two sectional titles but was unable to win the overall state title in 2016 and 2017. While the Griffins fell short of that particular goal this year, winning an SCT crown and being able to end the season on a win was a milestone moment for the program.
“This is a great championship to win and I’m very, very proud of this because this is one that has eluded us,” said Schwartz, who estimated Donovan’s last SCT title was in the 1980s. “With us being knocked out last year in the round of 16, we really wanted this one this year.”
“It’s amazing, we (Pagano) grew up together, our first games were together and it’s crazy this is our last time playing (together),” MacBurnie said. “It makes it extra special.”
Pagano led off the bottom of the first with a single and Kearney followed with a 2-run home run to straightaway center field, and from there Donovan was off and running. Kayla Roncin and Gaskins then drew back-to-back walks and, after Parker got a pop up for the first out, Lindsay Nelson walked to load the bases. St. John Vianney got the second out at home as Mikayla LaPlaca hit into a 3-2 fielder’s choice, but senior catcher Kati Vazquez followed with a two-run single to bring home Gaskins and Nelson for a 4-0 lead.
The four-run lead in the first inning was already a tremendous start for the Griffins, but MacBurnie added to the euphoria when she deposited a 2-2 pitch over the fence for a 3-run homer and a 7-0 Donovan Catholic lead.
“That was huge, but she’s been doing that all year,” Schwartz said. “That’s what’s great about our lineup is that the power is all the way through and MacBurnie came up huge in that instance.”
“The home run was amazing,” MacBurnie said. “I just wanted to keep it going.”
The dinger chased Parker from the game as St. John Vianney went to freshman Haley Ahr in relief. Pagano singled in her second at-bat of the inning but Ahr got Kearney to ground into a fielder’s choice to finally end the inning.
St. John Vianney got one run back in the top of the second when Jess Campana was hit by a pitch and then came around to score on a double by Gillian Zack. The Lancers then cut Donovan’s lead to 7-2 when senior shortstop Lindsey Baron led off the third inning with a solo home run.
Donovan extended its lead to 8-2 in the third when LaPlaca singled, went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Vazquez and scored on an error. St. John Vianney continued to chip away in the fourth inning when Alexis Agrapides reached on an infield single, went to third on a single by Campana and scored on a sac fly to shallow right field by catcher Ally Jones.
Donovan answered in the bottom of the fourth, however, when Gaskins and Lindsay Hay singled and Nelson hit an RBI single to make it 9-3.
Both teams were retired in order in the fifth inning before St. John Vianney drew closer in the top of the sixth as pinch-hitter Gabby Polera led off the inning with an opposite-field solo home run to make it 9-4.
The Griffins finished their statement with an exclamation point by scoring four times in the bottom of the sixth and nearly ended the game early via mercy rule. Kearny walked to start the inning and Roncin singled to set up Gaskins’ booming home run that made it 12-4. Hay then walked, moved to second on a groundout, went to third on a passed ball and scored on an RBI groundout by LaPlaca to push the Griffins’ advantage to 13-4.
Nelson then retired SJV in order in the top of the seventh to clinch the championship and give the Griffins revenge against the only team to defeat them in 2018.
“All great teams – and I think we’re a great team – prepare for those hard games,” Pagano said. “Teams have their upsets but to get a second shot, we’re so grateful because not every team gets that. Most seniors don’t get a second shot, they end on a loss, but we got to end on a win so that’s incredible for us.”
Both teams are very young and should be in the upper echelon of the state for years to come. The Griffins have just four seniors – MacBurnie, Pagano, Vazquez and Grace Leone – but they were instrumental in helping to forge a powerhouse program.
“These four seniors have really built the foundation of this program and for them to come out here and perform like they did today was awesome,” Schwartz said.
“The Donovan program completely changed my softball experience, my softball career,” Pagano said. “We (MacBurnie) started playing with each other when we were 10 years old, got to win a sectional title, a Shore Conference title and we won B South all four years.”
“We went out to Ohio and won there, we went against the best teams in New York and won there,” MacBurnie added. “These past four years were crazy. If college can top this I can’t wait because these past four years have been the time of my life.”
Donovan Catholic 13, St. John Vianney 4
SJV (27-1) 0 1 1 1 0 1 0 – 4 6 1
DC (30-1) 7 0 1 1 0 4 X – 13 10 0
WP: Lindsay Nelson: 7 IP, 4 R, 6 H, BB, HBP, 3Ks
LP: Julia Parker: 2/3 IP, 7 R, 4 H, 3 BB.
SJV Top Hitters
Lindsey Baron: 1-for-4, HR
Gabby Polera: 1-for-1, HR
Gillian Zack: 1-for-3, RBI
Donovan Top Hitters
Karina Gaskins: 2-for-2, HR, 2 BB, 3 RBI, 3 runs scored
Alexa Pagano: 2-for-4, run scored
Jayda Kearney: 1-for-3, HR, BB, 2 RBI
Mikayla LaPlaca: 1-for-4, RBI, 2 runs scored
Kati Vazquez: 2-for-3, 2 RBI, run scored, SB
Amanda MacBurnie: 1-for-4, HR, 3 RBI
Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.