SAINT JOHN VIANNEY REBOUNDS TO CAPTURE SHORE CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
By Mike Ready
RED BANK – After suffering a brutal 10-inning, one-run loss to Donovan Catholic in the NJSIAA Non-Public, South A championship game, top-seeded Saint John Vianney was able to avenge that loss three nights later.
Scoring two runs in the bottom of the sixth, the top-seeded Lancers beat second-seeded Donovan Catholic, 4-3, for their first Shore Conference Tournament title since 2017 and seventh in the last 15 years.
A year ago, the roles were reversed as Saint Vianney defeated Donovan Catholic in the sectional final before going on to win the Non-Public A championship. But the Griffins took their frustrations out on the Lancers in the SCT final routing them, 13-4, scoring seven runs in the first inning.
As painful as the loss in the sectional final was for the Lancers, their SCT championship, although bittersweet, gave them a degree of redemption and allowed the seniors to end their careers on a positive note.
“We left 15 runners on base in that game and we had a lot of opportunities to capitalize and we didn’t,” said senior second baseman Alexis Agrapides, who had the game-tying RBI in the sixth. “Our main goal was to finish strong and finish the game for our seniors and team and we definitely did.”
Senior catcher and Fordham University-bound Ally Jones, although pleased with the win, still felt the sting of their loss in the sectionals.
“Yea, a little bit,” she said when asked if their SCT title made it a little easier to take. “All of us seniors, we were just trying to go out with a win and play hard. Donovan did a great job battling us as they always do and it’s just cool to see the top Shore Conference teams play each other.”
The Lancers capped off another stellar season which saw them go undefeated in division play (14-0) to capture the B North title and win 27 games against just one loss.
They can also take solace in the fact that they concluded their season ranked 20th in the USA Today’s Super Top 25 national rankings and No. 1 in the NJ.com Top 20.
As is usually the case when these two intense rivals meet up, Monday’s game was another nail-biter that came down to the final pitch.
“These are such evenly matched teams,” said Donovan Catholic coach Debbie Schwartz. “Great pitching, great hitting, great defense, stellar plays all over the place. I’m surprised we didn’t go 20 innings tonight; it was kind of like a heavyweight boxing match.”
Donovan Catholic took a quick 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Notre Dame junior commit Karina Gaskins dropped a two-out single into shallow left field and raced home all the way from first when University of Georgia junior commit Jayda Kearney’s blistering line-drive went off the top of centerfielder Mackenzie Bloss’ glove for an error and unearned run.
The Lancers knotted the game at one in the bottom of the third inning. Singles by Agrapides and Gabby Polera put runners on first and second with two outs for junior pitcher Julia Parker, who lined an RBI single over the head of Kearney in centerfield.
In the top of the fourth, Donovan Catholic added a run to take a 2-1 lead on a sacrifice fly by senior Lindsey Nelson that drove in Gaskins, who had singled to lead off the inning and moved to third on a base hit from Kearney.
Saint John Vianney answered right back in the bottom half of the inning to knot the game at two when Griffins starting pitcher Kait Mulcahey walked the first two batters, junior Jordyn Schultz and senior third
baseman Jess Campana.
Schultz then moved to third and Campana to second on a ground out to first with Schultz scoring on Agrapides’ third hit of the game, a soft liner that eluded second baseman Mya Lamicella before finding its way into the outfield.
Through four innings, however, the Lancers had left seven runners on base – five is scoring position –
and that was a cause of concern for head coach Kim Lombardi.
“We left 15 people in scoring position in the last game with them,” said Lombardi. “And with a team like that you can’t leave that many people in scoring position. Today it seemed to be going the same way, leaving people on every inning. Finally, the girls came through and didn’t want to lose.”
Donovan Catholic grabbed its last lead of the game in the top of the fifth when Hofstra University-bound Lindsey Hay took a Parker offering deep over the left-field wall for her second home run of the season and a 3-2 lead.
The score remained 3-2 until the bottom of the sixth when the Lancers scored the tying and what turned out to be the winning run.
Campana hammered a double into the right/centerfield gap leading off the inning putting the tying run at second. She then moved to third on a Gillian Zack 6-3 groundout and came home on Agrapides’ line drive RBI single into centerfield – her fourth hit of the night and second RBI – that tied the game 3-3.
“My objective all day was to go up the middle and that’s what I did there,” said Agrapides. “They’re both good pitchers but I just put the bat on the ball and ultimately got it done.”
Jones has been a teammate of Agrapides for four years now and is accustomed to Agapides’ heroics.
“She’s been an awesome player to watch and play with over the years,” said Jones. “It’s so cool for her to step up her senior year; she’s had a rock-star year. She deserves everything, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from her.”
With the score now 3-3, sophomore shortstop Haley Ahr lined a single to center with Agrapides taking third on the play and Ahr advancing to second base on the throw to third.
At this point, Schwartz decided to make a pitching change bringing in Nelson, who enter with a 19-1 record and a 1.14 ERA, in relief of Mulcahey.
That brought up Jones, who came into the game averaging .432 at the plate with a team-leading 35 RBI and she added to her RBI total grounding a ball to the right side of the infield allowing Agrapides to score the go-ahead run.
“They were throwing a lot outside, and my primary focus was to take it right, especially when you have a runner in scoring position,” said Jones. “They were playing deep on the right side, so that was my main focus to knock it over to the right side.”
Lombardi feels both Jones and Agrapides have been undervalued and deserve more credit.
“Ally Jones and Alexis Agrapides are two of the most underrated players in the Shore,” Lombardi said. “The state doesn’t realize how big they’ve been to me for four years.”
Parker, however, after getting the No. 9 batter, Katie Wioland, on a 5-3 ground out to start the seventh, was still tasked with facing the top of the batting order.
With one out, Hay lined a single into right field putting the tying run at first and winning run at the plate.
Campana then showcased her defense robbing Kayla Roncin, who was hitting .558 with five home runs and 33 RBI, of a hit picking up a slow grounder and firing to second base all in one motion to get the lead runner and second out.
That brought up Gaskins, who was just selected as the New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year and has a Shore Conference-leading 19 home runs and 61 RBI, with the game on the line.
Lombardi elected to intentionally walk Gaskins twice in Friday’s sectional final, but this time she let Parker pitch to her and it paid off with Gaskins lofting a long fly ball to center that Bloss easily gloved for the final out of the game.
“We took a chance today,” Lombardi said. “I played around with her a little bit in the sectional final, saw what she can hit and can’t hit and I said, ‘you know what, Jayda (Kearny) is kind of on fire today so we’re going to take a chance on Gaskins instead of just walking her.’”
Parker (7 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 7 K, 1 BB) was sensational in going the distance while picking up one of the biggest wins of her career.
“They’re excellent hitters and I just trusted my pitches and trusted my defense behind me,” said Parker. “After the loss to them we just wanted to come in strong and win this game. It felt great to end the season with a win for our seniors.”
For Agrapides, the season and her high school career may not have ended the way she had hoped, but she’s happy to go out on a high note.
“Ultimately, it was my last game playing for SJV softball and wearing the jersey, and I wear it with pride,” she said. “I just wanted to do anything I could for my team; it was a great game. I knew it would be close and any chance I got, I had to capitalize.”