By Rich Fisher | CorrespondentSt. John Vianney High School’s first softball title since 2013 was defined in different ways by different players, but it all translated into the same emotion – ecstasy.
On June 2, the Lancers of Holmdel took a pulsating, 2-1 victory over Mount St. Dominic of Caldwell in the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship game at Kean College in Union, after the Lions put the tying and winning runs on in the seventh inning.
Photo Gallery: St. John Vianney Softball – State Title Win
“This means the world,” sophomore leftfielder Gillian Zack said.
“This is the most surreal experience ever,” added junior catcher Ally Jones.
“It was a really fun game,” sophomore pitcher Julia Parker said. “But stressful at times.”
All the stress was on Parker after she allowed a double and single that put runners on second and third in the bottom of the seventh. Alexa Raphael was on third, and just a shallow fly ball or lightly hit grounder would have scored the speedster, who stole her 28th and 29th bases of the season earlier in the game.
Jones wanted to make sure her pitcher was able to handle the situation, but soon realized she had little to worry about.
“My main goal during that was to keep Julia calm,” she said. “She’s a confident pitcher, and when she’s calm and having fun, she pitches amazing. She was just really focused and enjoying every moment of it. That’s what’s really important to get the job done.”
All it took was a few deep breaths, and Parker went back to work.
“I just had to calm down, trust my pitches and get the next batter out,” Parker said. “We went with balls outside and high. I used rise balls, some other curves. Just mixed it up. I was just like, ‘I need to get a ground-out; I can’t give up another hit.’ It was really just trust my pitches and know the defense would deliver.”
“We were worried because the slap hitters got up and they were hitting her well all game,” Jones said. “We just wanted to keep it outside and hopefully get a nice little ground out or a flair.”
Zack stood in the outfield without a fear in the world.
“She’s a great pitcher; she’s gotten better, and we knew we could count on her,” the sophomore said. “It’s a great feeling to have a tough pitcher who can get out of those situations.”
Parker lived up to that confidence, getting a pop-out to third baseman Haley Ahr that advanced no one, and a grounder to senior shortstop Lindsey Baron that she calmly fielded and threw to Ahr at first to start the celebration.
“I am so confident in Baron,” Jones said. “When I saw her field the ball, I was instantly excited. I knew she was gonna have the play. Once she got her out at first, my primary focus was just to tackle Julia.”
Delirious tackles were thrown all over the infield, as Baron, Antonia Pacillo and Shelli Rivard got their long-awaited state title in their final opportunity.
“Our seniors haven’t won a state championship all three years, and we wanted to win it for them,” Zack said.
Parker echoed that thought, saying, “The seniors didn’t get to this final [until this season], so we really wanted to do it for them.”
The obstacle each off the past two seasons was Donovan Catholic, which beat SJV in the South Jersey sectionals both years. The Lancers (27-0) reversed the trend on May 31 with a 2-0 win in the SJ finals at Stockton University. St. John Vianney is 55-1 in the past two years, with Donovan Catholic the “1.”
The two will go at it again in the Shore Conference Tournament finals June 4, before SJV begins play in the Tournament of Champions June 6. In the sectional final, Parker pitched a three-hitter, while Jones and Rivard drove in runs in the sixth inning.
“It was huge beating them,” Zack said. “I know we hadn’t beaten them the last two years. Last year, we battled against them, we lost by one run, and we knew we had to come in strong, and that’s what we did.
“We definitely had to regroup for this game [against Mount St. Dominic],” she continued. “We had to go into a different mindset, like ‘Donovan Catholic is in the past,’ and we had to focus on this game, and that’s what we did.”
Parker felt there was no fear of a letdown after the emotional win over the Griffins.
“We were just really pumped up after beating Donovan,” the hurler said. “Just the momentum and exhilaration really came to this game, too. We just had to play the next game. We just wanted to win.”
They got the necessary runs to win in the top of the second. Gabby Polera walked and was sacrificed to second by Alexis Agrapides. After a strikeout, Jones laced an RBI single to left and moved to second on the throw home.
“It was a pressure situation, and I just figured there was a job ahead of me and I wanted to get that job done,” Jones said. “Scoring the runner was my main focus. I just wanted to trust in the Lord and pick a pitch I knew I could drive.”
Charlie Baker was the courtesy runner for Jones and appeared to be nailed trying to score on Zack’s single. But the throw was dropped and Baker scored what proved to be the decisive run.
“I knew we had to score early,” Zack said. “I just wanted to get the ball in play to score her. It was a good close play, but luckily Charlie is really fast, and she did a good job of running.”
Parker took it from there, as she struck out six and survived seven hits, three walks and a solo home run by Julianna Kocenski in the fourth.
“I had complete confidence in Julia as a pitcher and complete confidence in my defense and my offense,” Jones said. “We were just confident.
“Beating Donovan, then coming here and winning was an amazing experience. We were so focused this year. Our primary focus was to literally cross the finish line. That was our goal, and that’s what we did.”
They now have another finish line to cross, as SJV is two wins away from the state’s ultimate prize. The top-seeded Lancers got a first-round bye in the Tournament of Champions and will meet the Steinert-Roselle Park winner in the June 6, 7 p.m. semifinals at Ivy Hill Park on the Seton Hall University campus. A victory puts them in the June 8 title game.
It’s a hectic schedule, going from a state final June 2 to an SCT final June 4 to TOC game June 6, but Jones isn’t worried about maintaining focus.
“Not at all,” she said. “We just want to kind of close it out. We’re just now focused on our next goal, which will be the Shore Conference, and then the TOC.”
Which could provide opportunities to get ecstatic all over again.