SAINT JOHN VIANNEY DOWNS MIDDLETOWN SOUTH, 5-0; ADVANCES TO 10TH STRAIGHT MCT FINAL By Mike Ready

WALL – Even the senior prom couldn’t slow down the St. John Vianney softball express.

 
Only hours after St. John Vianney’s five senior starters celebrated their senior prom, they were back at it on the field without missing a beat and helping the top-seeded Lancers beat fourth-seeded Middletown South, 5-0, in Saturday’s semifinal at Wall High School.  
 
With the win, the undefeated Lancers (20-0) – ranked No.1 in the state – advance to their 10th straight Monmouth County Tournament and earn the chance to raise their record in those games to a perfect 10-0.
 
Junior Julia Parker put the seniors on her shoulders Saturday going the distance picking up her 15th shutout of the season and 20th win.  
 
The hard-throwing righty allowed just three base runners through six innings of work courtesy of a first-inning single, fifth-inning hit batsman and a sixth-inning base on balls.
 
She finished with a three-hit shutout, striking out five, walking one and hitting one batter in another dazzling performance by the Lancers’ dominant ace. 
 
The Eagles’ two hits in the top of the seventh were both the seeing-eye variety that Parker shrugged off and then promptly struck out the last batter of the game in true Julia Parker fashion.  
 
“I felt good out there,” Parker said after the game. “I felt confident and knew everyone behind me was going to make the play and everyone was going to deliver at bat.” 
 
There’s a reason Parker is confident in her defense behind because they don’t make mistakes. 
 
The Lancers’ signature defense again played error-free softball – a trademark of head coach Kim Lombardi’s teams – while the Eagles’ two errors in the bottom of the third led to three-unearned runs for the Lancers. 
 
For teams to have any shot at beating this juggernaut of a team, rule number one is that you must play mistake-free softball and Middletown South did not do that and it cost them. 
 
“Julia doesn’t give up many hits and she has great defense behind her,” said Lombardi. “When she’s on the mound she gets a chance to win every single game.” 
 
In that third inning, senior second baseman Alexis Agrapides laced a two-out single down the third-base line. Sophomore shortstop Haley Ahr followed with a line single to right that was misplayed into an error, allowing Agrapides to score all the way from first and Ahr to advance to second. 
 
“I try to tell my kids to be aggressive and good things come from being aggressive on the base paths,” said Lombardi referencing Agrapides scoring all the way from first. “Sometimes you’re going to get out being aggressive, but rather them get out trying to take that extra base then not score that run because we were passive.” 
 
Senior catcher Ally Jones then skied a fly ball to right that was dropped, allowing Ahr to score for a 2-0 lead with Jones taking second on the play.  With Jones now in scoring position, senior right fielder and cleanup hitter Gabby Polera drilled a single to center scoring Jones for a 3-0 lead. 
 
Parker then recorded a 1-2-3 fourth before the Lancers tacked on another run in the bottom half of the inning. 
 
Freshman centerfielder Mackenzie Bloss stroked a one-out double down the third-base line and senior third baseman Jess Campana followed with a perfect bunt single to put runners at the corners with only one out. 
 
Campana then bluffed going to second initiating a throw from the catcher to second base that resulted in a rundown with Campana eventually being tagged out, but it got the job done as Bloss scampered home on the throw for a 4-0 advantage after four innings of play. 
 
In the fifth, Agrapides led off the inning with a shot off the base of the left field fence for a double and went to third on a groundout. Jones then brought her home, drilling an RBI single to centerfield pushing the Lancers lead to 5-0. 
 
The Lancers’ opponent in Tuesday’s final will be second-seed Middletown North (17-5), a team they’ve already beaten twice this season and the team they beat, 5-2, in last year’s Monmouth County Tournament final.  
 
“We just want to take it game by game, but it feels great getting back there,” said Parker of the MCT final. “North’s a great opponent and we know what to expect and we’re just going to come out to win.” 
 
However, the Lions – ranked No. 11 in the state – are not to be overlooked. They’re a veteran team that boasts one of the premier pitchers in the state in Malori Bell. Bell has recorded 270 strikeouts in 142 innings pitched while allowing just 22 earned runs for a miniscule 1.08 ERA. 
 
“I don’t even think about that,” Lombardi said when asked about getting that 10th MCT title in a row. “I just think about winning the game ahead of us so we’ll be up against Middletown North and this will be the third time we’ve seen them. They’re a great team that’s coached well so it should be exciting.” 
 
Jones finished going 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI, while Polera was 1-for-3 with two RBI and Apgrapides had two hits in three at bats, including a double and two runs scored. 
 
Freshman Hope Mulane pitched gallantly for the Eagles, but took the loss going six innings allowing five runs (2 ER), eight hits without issuing a walk. 
 
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