HOLMDEL, NJ - It can be easy to forget that Julia Parker is only a sophomore. The St. John Vianney pitcher and had big shoes to fill in replacing graduated ace Demi Rivera in the circle this year, but Parker has risen to the occasion and led the Lancers (24-0) to an undefeated regular season.

Today’s South Jersey Non-Public A semifinal game against Bishop Ahr wasn’t a cakewalk defensively for the Lancers, but Parker’s composure in the circle, combined with an early offensive burst led second-seeded St. John Vianney to an 8-3 win over the third-seeded Trojans (23-2) and into the sectional finals.

Parker, a South Plainfield native, grew up playing against some of the players of Bishop Ahr, a Greater Middlesex Conference team, and for a while in the third inning, the Trojans seemed to be getting the better of the Lancers’ defense. Bishop Ahr cut into a six-run lead the Lancers built in the first inning by scoring two runs off of two walks and two hits. Parker recovered though and ended up conceding just one more run, two more hits and one more walk in the remaining six innings. The standout pitcher ended up striking out seven batters, and closed the game by retiring five straight batters.

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“After the second inning where I gave up two runs, I knew I had to hunker down and really trust my defense,” Parker said after the game.

 “Even my coach said at the beginning of the season that I can’t act like a sophomore. I have to act like an upperclassmen and have really have confidence when I go out there on the field.”

Kim Lombardi, the head coach of St. John Vianney, said she was pleased  with how her pitcher overcame the two errors her team  committed.

“Sometimes when you don’t have your best stuff, (Parker) still manages to do a great job,” the coach said. “She executed the plays that we needed to get outs.”

When it came to offense, the Lancers simply overwhelmed their opponent early and kept their foot on the gas just enough to keep the game out of reach.

The battle between the Lancers, the No.2 team in the state according to NJ.com and the Trojans, the No. 16 team in the state, almost seemed to be destined for a mercy rule stoppage after just one inning of play.  Lindsey Baron got things started quickly for the Lancers by hitting a solo-homer in SJV’s first at-bat of the game. Bishop Ahr pitcher Katie Eicher forced two outs in the next two at-bats, but a two-run double by Ally Jones kept the inning alive, and a bunt by Shelli Revard brought home a run to make it a six-run deficit, before Bishop Ahr got their third out of the game.

“Defensively I thought we came out kind of weak, and that’s not usually our main thing, we’re usually very sound defensively.” Lombardi said. “We definitely came out and hit the ball very well in the first inning to make up for it. Getting six runs is certainly insurance for your defense, your pitcher and your confidence going forward.”

The Lancers won’t get much chance to rest, as they’ll be traveling to Wall on Wednesday to take on Middletown North in the semifinals of the Shore Conference tournament. Today’s win set the Lancers up for a Thursday sectional final matchup against arguably their most formidable rival, in Donovan Catholic. Donovan Catholic, the undefeated top-seed and No. 1 ranked team in the state, handed the Lancers their most recent loss, a 6-5 setback in the 2017 sectional final.

Even with that history, the Lancers’ focus is solely on Middletown North. The Lancers should go into the matchup with some confidence ,as they earned their ninth-straight Monmouth County title with a 5-2 win over the Lions, earlier this month.

“I think we just really need to come out swinging like we did this game and just play defense,” Parker said. “And I just need to do well pitching.”