RED BANK – The Donovan Catholic-Saint John Vianney rivalry is back, and better than ever.
Friday night at Count Basie Field in Red Bank the two teams renewed their long-standing rivalry after a period where the usually dominant Lancers took a back seat to the nationally ranked Griffins, who came into the game ranked 17th in the USA Today Super 25 rankings.
Saint John Vianney entered the game ranked No.1 in New Jersey in the latest NJ.com rankings and was awarded the top seed in the Shore Conference Tournament while Donovan Catholic came into the game ranked third in the state and the number-two seed in the tournament.
However, none of that ranking stuff mattered Friday night after the first pitch was thrown. It was just two old friends getting reacquainted with each other with Saint John Vianney letting Donovan Catholic know they haven’t gone anywhere.
In the past two years, the two teams have met just once: a 10-0 Donovan Catholic win in the 2021 NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A semifinals.
But Friday night sure did look a lot like the battles these two teams endured during its hay day years of 2016 through 2019.
“Kim’s (SJV head coach Kim Lombardi) a great coach,” Donovan Catholic head coach Debbie Schwartz said. “People were like saying they were down. I never thought they were down; she’s just tough and her teams always play tough, as they did tonight. Kudos to them; they played a great game. We beat a really good team tonight.”
In an epic extra-inning thriller, the reigning two-time SCT champion Griffins (27-1) scored one run in the top of the 10th and held off the determined Lancers (22-1) in the bottom half of the inning to hand SJV its first loss of the season, 4-3.
It was a classic pitching duel between two of New Jersey’s top-ranked hurlers, Donovan Catholic’s senior Julia Apostolakos and impressive freshman Madison McDougall for the Lancers.
Apostolakos – a University of South Florida commit - entered the game with a 0.92 ERA and has 202 strikeouts in 106 innings pitched while McDougall came into the game sporting a 0.86 ERA with 181 strikeouts in 98 innings pitched.
The Griffins took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Senior Jenna Giattino drew a walk then promptly stole second base before Apostolakos lined a 3-and-2 pitch into center field scoring Giattino for an RBI single while also helping her own cause.
In the top of the third, Giattino took matters into her own hands. The University of Delaware commit beat the throw to first on a slow roller to third for a base hit. She then stole second and third base and raced home on a heads up play on Apostolakos’ 6-3 groundout, just beating the throw home.
Meanwhile, Apostolakos had a perfect game going entering the bottom of the sixth inning against a team that was averaging 11.8 runs per game and had struck out the side in the fourth and fifth innings. But after getting the first out she seemed to temporarily lose control of her pitches walking the eighth and ninth hitters in the batting order. She then struck out leadoff batter, Holly Lovett, before McDougall sliced a double into the left-field corner scoring Isabelle Cattelona and Giuliana Cardin to tie the game at 2-2.
“That was an unbelievable performance,” Schwartz said of her ace. “She’s a highly focused athlete on the field from the first pitch. Even when they scored two runs, she stayed focused and came right back. She pitched a gem today. She had fight in her tonight and there was no way she was going to lose. Several time she called he own pitch and got a big out during the game; she's a highly focused and unbelievable athlete.”
The score stayed that way until the top of the ninth when Donovan Catholic threatened to put the game out of reach. Sophomore Christina Ginex led off the inning with a walk and sophomore Olivia Kurth followed with a line-drive single into right, putting runners at first and second with no outs.
Freshman Daniella Rodriguez then attempted to bunt the runners over but she popped it up to a charging first baseman Cattelona, who threw to first in an attempt to double up Kurth, but the throw went into right field. Right fielder Jordyn Gautier then fielded the ball and fired a laser to third to nail Ginex slidding into third for the wild double play.
Kurth went to second on the play and scored on a clutch two-out single up the middle by sophomore Gia Gordon to put Donovan Catholic ahead 3-2. McDougall then got sophomore Megan Miller to pop out to end the inning.
“In the moment I just knew I had to get my job done,” Gordon said of her go-ahead hit. “I was happy to get the base hit when my team needed it the most. It definitely helped knowing my teammates were behind me and they had my back. I was trying to help my teammates anyway possible.”
The classic tug of war battle continued in the bottom of the ninth with the Lancers knotting the game at 3-3. McDougall led off the inning by drawing a walk bringing up the number three batter Gabby Gonzalez, who entered the game hitting .544 with nine home runs and 34 RBI. Gonzalez worked the count to 3-and-2 before Apostolakos got her looking for the first out.
It might’ve been the biggest strikeout of the game for Apostolakos, who finished with 16 K’s on the night, because the next batter, sophomore Elisabeth Figliolino, lined a single into right scoring pinch runner Kelli Plumaker all the way from first when the throw to third sailed wide for an E9.
Figliolino advanced to second on the throw but was doubled up off second on a line drive to center by Gautier to end the inning.
Now tied 3-3 entering the top of the 10th inning, a runner is placed at second base similar to the MLB rule.
Miller made the last out of the ninth inning, so she was placed at second base. Leadoff hitter freshman Isabella Maria, a .586 hitter with nine home runs and 31 RBI but was 0-for-4 on the night, dropped a hit into shallow right field for an RBI single for the eventual game-winning run.
“This was probably the most exciting game I’ve played in,” Maria said. “It was really nerve wracking but I mean, they’re a really great team. I knew it had a chance to drop, and I knew I had to come up clutch for the team. I’m just happy to be playing with this team and we’re going to keep succeeding.”
McDougall set the next three batters down in order and the game headed to the bottom of the 10th with the Griffins holding a precarious 4-3 lead.
Gautier was placed at second and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Grace Colucci. Apostolakos then picked up her 16th strikeout of the game fanning sophomore Nicole Giglio before putting the game to bed by getting Cattelona on a pop out to second to end the marathon contest in the Griffins favor, 4-3.
“It was a really tough game and it really brought out the fight in our heart,” Apostolakos said. “It felt like a state championship. Both teams did great, we just brought the fight. It was crazy anxious (in the late innings) and we kept fighting with our hearts.”
Chances are a rematch just might be in the cards. Donovan Catholic is the No.1 seed in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A tournament while the Lancers were given the third seed. If they do meet again, it would be in the semifinals, tentatively scheduled for May 30.
Donovan Catholic is the three-time defending NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A champion as well as the three-time defending Non-Public A champion. The Griffins boast a staggering 145-6 record since the 2018 season.
“It’s one group of girls passing the torch to the next group,” Schwartz said. “There’s a foundation that was built seven years ago and these kids buy into it. I’m happy that it’s there and I’m proud of my kids, but they come with fight and work hard every day. When you work hard every day you can play in these games.”