Undisputed: Donovan Catholic defeats Cedar Grove to win TOC championship
SOUTH ORANGE – There is a new flag atop the summit of New Jersey high school softball, and this one is adorned with the initials D.C.
In a victory befitting of its dominant 2019 season, Donovan Catholic overpowered Cedar Grove, 10-0 in five innings, to win the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions crown on Friday night at Mike Sheppard Sr. Field at Ivy Hill Park on the campus of Seton Hall University.
The Griffins entered the bottom of the fifth inning with a 7-0 lead and plated three runs to end the game via the 10-run mercy rule. Mikayla LaPlaca delivered the championship-clinching hit with a one-out, two-run double that scored Karina Gaskins and Jayda Kearney with the ninth and 10th runs of the game.
“I started crying in my last at-bat,” said senior third baseman Lindsey Hay. “I knew it was the end because even though we had seven runs I knew we were going to get it done that inning. I knew that was my last at-bat and I took that extra base (on her leadoff double) because I knew that was it. We played with every ounce of our hearts.
Donovan’s three seniors – pitcher Lindsay Nelson, second baseman Mya Lamicella and Hay – helped lead the way as the Griffins concluded their historic season by winning the NJSIAA’s third softball T.O.C. Nelson blanked Cedar Grove by tossing four shutout innings where she surrendered three hits and struck out five. Nelson also drove in three runs with a single and a pair of bases-loaded walks. Hay set the tone as the leadoff hitter by scoring three runs and reaching base three times, including a lead-off double in the fifth inning. Lamicella had a pair of RBI as the Griffins built an early lead.
“I’ll attest this to three people, Lindsey Hay, Lindsay Nelson and Mya Lamicella,” said Donovan Catholic head coach Debbie Schwartz. “They took the team by the reigns and led them. Without their leadership, this would not have happened. They have been four-year starters for me and all three played integral parts of this game. It’s very sad to see them go but I’m very happy with their career paths.”
The Griffins’ imposing lineup showed why it is the most feared unit in New Jersey. Cedar Grove’s Mia Faieta is one of New Jersey’s best pitchers and Donovan was able to touch her up for 10 runs in just five innings. Donovan had seven hits and also drew an astounding 12 walks. Junior first baseman Karina Gaskins, the 2019 Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year and a Notre Dame recruit, was 1-for-1 with three walks and three runs scored, while University of Georgia-bound junior centerfielder Jayda Kearney was 2-for-2 with two walks, three RBI and two runs scored. Junior shortstop Kayla Roncin reached base twice and scored a pair of runs while also making some big plays in the field.
“We were very fortunate to be so disciplined today against a very good pitcher,” Schwartz said. “We forced some long counts. We knew she would go in and out and staying off the rise helped us tremendously.”
“We pass the bat, we feed off each other,” Hay said. “If I personally don’t get it done, I’m passing the bat to Kayla Roncin. We all believe in each other.”
Donovan jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning when Hay walked Roncin reached on an error. Gaskins walked to load the bases and Kearney smacked a two-run single to left field to get the scoring party started. After consecutive walks to Nelson and LaPlaca loaded the bases again, Lamicella bunted home Kearney from third.
The Griffins’ lead grew to 5-0 in the second inning when Hay drew a one-out, base on balls and Gaskins roped a two-out double to put runners on second and third. Kearney and Nelson followed with consecutive RBI infield singles.
Faieta recorded a much-needed 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the third, but Donovan came right back in the fourth inning with two more runs. Roncin singled to start the inning and Gaskins and Kearney walked to load the bases. Nelson worked another walk to bring home the sixth run and two batters later, Gaskins sprinted home from third and beat the short throw on Lamicella’s bunt.
Cedar Grove threatened to score only once when it had runners on second and third with one out in the top of the third inning. Faieta and Brittney Taylor singled to begin the inning and Paige Scheid moved them over with a successful sacrifice bunt. Nelson put the clamps on by getting a strikeout for the second out and inducing a groundout to Gaskins at first
Donovan completed its coronation in style by walking off in the bottom of the fifth. Hay doubled to lead off the inning and raced back to second to avoid a double play when Roncin popped out to shallow left field. Gaskins and Kearney then walked to load the bases and Nelson brought home the seventh run with her second RBI base on balls. Then it was LaPlaca coming through with the final act of the Griffins’ championship season.
Donovan finished the season with a 30-2 record, its only losses coming in the first week of the season to Immaculate Heart Academy and to St. John Vianney, 4-3, in the Shore Conference Tournament final. The Griffins defeated Vianney to win their first NJSIAA Non-Public A state title before steamrolling both Immaculate Conception and Cedar Grove to win the T.O.C.
“We don’t just feel like we are the No. 1 team, we earned it and we know we are,” Hay said. “That’s the bottom line. It feels great to finally prove it.”
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