MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: DONOVAN CATHOLIC CEMENTS ITS LEGACY WITH T.O.C. CHAMPIONSHIP

 MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: DONOVAN CATHOLIC CEMENTS ITS LEGACY WITH T.O.C. CHAMPIONSHIP

By Mike Ready
 
SOUTH ORANGE – Playing with targets on their back the entire season after being named the preseason No. 1 team in New Jersey in most publications, then garnering national recognition as the season progressed, top-seeded Donovan Catholic fulfilled its destiny, capturing the program’s first-ever Tournament of Champions championship, beating second-seeded Cedar Grove, 10-0, in five innings. 
 
In her final game for the Griffins, senior Lindsey Nelson hurled a three-hit, five-inning shutout walking just one batter and striking out five to pick up her 21st win of the season against only one defeat. The Drexel University-bound Nelson also went 1-for-1 at the plate with three walks and three RBI. 
 
“We’ve had that pressure on us I’d say for three years now,” said Nelson, who entered with a 1.14 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 116 1/3 innings pitched. “In our freshman year we kind of flew under the radar but it was still difficult. At the same time, I’m very fortunate that we’ve have this pressure and so are the other girls because we’ve learned to mature and rise above that and play our game. So we’ve had a lot of pressure, but I think we’ve handled it well, especially because each year the pressure has gotten more and more. So we did a really good job playing our game today and forgetting about that pressure.” 
 
Nelson is one of three prominent senior starters, including Hofstra commit Lindsey Hay and second baseman Mya Lamicella, who have won three Non-Public, South A titles in their four years playing together, but were still searching for their first state-group title and T.O.C. championship in their final year.  
 
Donovan Catholic head coach Debbie Schwartz, although blessed with immense talent up and down the lineup, singled out her three seniors as the heart and soul of the team. 
 
“It’s a testament to three people, Lindsey Nelson, Lindsey Hay and Mya Lamicella,” said Schwartz of her senior leadership. “They took the team by the reins and they led them at the back end of the season. That’s why we took this run. Without their leadership this would not have happened.”
 
So, after losing to Immaculate Heart in the NJSIAA Non-Public A final as freshmen and sophomores, then suffering a devastating 2-0 loss to Saint John Vianney in last year’s NJSIAA Non-Public, South A final, nothing less than a T.O.C. championship would’ve sufficed for this group. 
 
“Oh definitely,” said Nelson when asked if last year’s loss to SJV was a motivating factor this season. “I still think about our seniors last year and how we wanted it so bad and how we really, really thought that that was our year. It’s funny because a lot of my motivation this year obviously is for the girls that were on the field, but it was also for those girls that didn’t get to win it and did experience that loss to SJV, so I think it played a big part.” 
 
This year, however, Donovan Catholic turned the tables on SJV, edging the Lancers, 3-2, in an epic battle that saw Nelson out-dual SJV ace Julia Parker in a 10-inning classic. The Griffins then nailed down the program’s first-ever state title with an 11-1, five-inning victory over Mount St. Dominic in the Non-Public A final before advancing to the T.O.C. final by beating Lodi Immaculate, 6-1, in the T.O.C. semis.  
 
“I started crying in my last at bat,” said Hay, who finished 1-for-2 with two walks and three runs scored and doubled leading off the bottom of the fifth to ignite the winning rally. “I knew it was the end because even though we only had seven runs, I knew we were going to get it done that inning because we play with every ounce of our heart and it’s all about the team. I’m crying right now saying I don’t want to go to college, this is my family. To do it with these people around me, these coaches that support everything we do, these players, everything, it’s unbelievable having such a family doing this.” 
 
The Griffins jumped on Cedar Grove starting pitcher Mia Faieta, who held a miniscule 0.368 ERA with 397 strikeouts in 190 innings pitched entering the game, for three runs in the bottom of the first. 
 
University of Georgia junior commit Jayda Kearny supplied a two-run single and Lamicella put down a beautiful squeeze bunt to score Kearny from third for the quick lead. 
 
Faieta uncharacteristically walked four batters in the inning and had 12 in the game and the Griffins gladly took advantage of her control problems. They worked the count fouling off one pitch after another until they found a pitch they liked or drew the walk.
 
“We had to be disciplined with her high-rising fastball,” said Schwartz. “We made long counts and we were very fortunate to be so disciplined against a very, very good pitcher.” 
 
Donovan Catholic added two more runs in the bottom of the second when junior Notre Dame commit and New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year Karina Gaskins lined a single to left moving Hay, who had walked, to third. Kearny followed with her third RBI of the night to drive in Hay on an infield hit then scored on a Nelson RBI single up the middle for a 5-0 lead. 
 
The Griffins added two in the fourth to go up, 7-0, on a bases loaded walk to Nelson and an RBI by Lamicella on another squeeze play. 
 
In the fifth, Hay’s leadoff double was followed by three walks to add another run before junior Mikayla LaPlaca lined a one-out, two-run single into the left-centerfield gap for the 10-0 mercy-rule win. 
 
“It’s amazing, we’ve been trying to get this for four years,” said Lamicella, who finished with two RBI. “I always thought we would get this. I never thought we wouldn’t, we always found our way back. We brought our team together at the beginning of the season and got our chemistry together because we knew we had the talent. So, we knew if we had chemistry too, we could overcome anything.” 
 
The win will most likely catapult the Griffins (30-2) over Saint John Vianney and into the No.1 spot in the final NJ.com Top 20 rankings while validating their already lofty national ranking of No. 21 in the USA Today’s Super 25. 
 
“Sometimes in losses you learn your greatest lessons,” said Schwartz. “And that hurt and hunger brought us to this today where we got to prove that we are the greatest team in New Jersey.”   
 
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