Donovan Catholic captures first state softball title

Donovan Catholic celebrates winning the NJSIAA Non-Public A South championship game May 31, one day before the Toms River team took its first state softball title. Hal Brown photo


By Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor

Winning pitcher Lindsay Nelson stood on the Rowan University softball field amid the euphoria of Donovan Catholic’s win over St. John Vianney in the NJSIAA Non-Public A South championship game May 31 and discussed the intense rivalry between the Shore Conference powerhouses.

“It’s fun, but it’s a challenge; my legs are a little noodley right now,” Nelson said after drawing a bases loaded walk in the bottom of the 10th to plate the winning run in a pulsating 3-2 victory. “It’s weird, even after all this pressure, it’s a fun game. I would pick this game over beating teams 10-0, 15-0 like we did all year.”

There is an exception to that rule, however, and it came one night later at Kean University in Union, when the Griffins rolled to an 11-1, five-inning victory over Mount St. Dominic in the Non-Public A state final. It is the first state softball championship in program history, and the seniors’ first success in the big game after losing state finals in 2016 and 2017.

“When we were at Kean a few years ago, we were labeled the young team,” Nelson said. “But we’re old now, we’re veterans. It was time that it ended differently. It was time we played a different game than the first two times we were here.”

Were it not for the fact it was a historic victory, it would almost seem anti-climatic after the pulsating SJV game that lasted nearly three hours.

Donovan Catholic (28-1), which will meet the Lodi Immaculate-Ramsey winner in the Tournament of Champions semifinal June 5 at Seton Hall, took all the drama out of the final by scoring nine first-inning runs against a Mount St. Dominic team it beat 6-1 during the regular season.

The Griffins led 4-0 after four batters when Lindsey Hay and Kayla Roncin doubled, Karina Gaskins walked and Jayda Kearney hit a three-run homer. Hay hit a three-run double and Gaskins added a two-run double to cap the uprising. Nelson took it from there, tossing a three-hitter with four strikeouts.

“We’re more of a true team than the first two years we were here,” coach Debbie Schwartz said. “We were confident.”

“We’ve been to this game before, and it hasn’t ended the way we wanted,” Nelson said. “This year it ended differently.”

The biggest problem was getting there, as Donovan Catholic had to survive another epic battle with SJV in Glassboro. Since Schwartz has turned DC into a softball power, the two conference rivals have developed a fierce but entertaining rivalry. Donovan Catholic won the SJ A title game between the two in 2017; the Lancers returned the favor last year only to have the Griffins beat them in the Shore Conference Tournament final.

“Kim [Lombardi, SJV coach] and I talk all the time, this probably should be one of the [state] final games,” Schwartz said. “It’s hard for us to get to the sectional final and have to knock each other out. Last year we didn’t get through; this year they didn’t. Both pitchers pitched well enough today, and both teams played well enough to win. Typical Donovan Catholic-SJV softball.”

Donovan Catholic took a 1-0 lead on Kaylynn Gerrity’s RBI single in the second. SJV tied it in fifth on Gabby Polera’s RBI single, but Donovan Catholic came right back in the bottom of the inning when Roncin singled and scored on a dropped fly ball. The Lancers (25-1) rallied again in the sixth when Jordyn Schultz reached on an error and Alexis Agrapides delivered an RBI single.

The international tie-breaker rule went into effect in the 10th when the last batter from the previous inning is placed on second base. After SJV could not score, Roncin stood on second as the potential winning run.

“Run fast, and be smart,” she said of her thoughts.

The dangerous Gaskins was walked intentionally and Kearney loaded the bases on an infield single. Nelson then took four straight pitches to force in the winning run.

“Bases loaded and no outs, that helps, it puts the pressure more on them,” Nelson said. “I just went up there calm and I knew I had to get it done for my team. I tried not to go up there nervous and just believe in myself. I knew getting up there this time just to stay within myself.”

Nelson also stayed within herself in the circle as she pitched out of trouble all game, stranding 15 Lancer runners on base.

“When it gets a little tiring, you have to have trust in your team, and we all trust each other,” Nelson said. “I knew it wasn’t over until we said it was over.”

“We were so energized, we just stayed up the whole game,” Gaskins said. “We knew it was going to be a battle. We just had to push through it. This means everything. We’re so pumped we were able to get it done this year.”

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