NEWARK-- All good things eventually come to an end. Today, an outstanding South Plainfield High School softball season came to a close.
History was made today at Newark’s Ivy Hill Park, as the fourth seeded Lady Tigers took on fifth seeded Lodi Immaculate in the first ever game of the new Tournament of Champions. The newly formed tournament pits all of the softball state champions against each other, and in today’s opening quarterfinal game, it was easy to see how Group 3 winner South Plainfield and the Non-Public B champion Blue Wolves (30-4) earned their titles.
A strong hitting performance gave Lodi Immaculate a 3-0 lead with two innings left, but the Lady Tigers (27-5) rallied back to tie the game in the sixth. Just when the momentum seemed to be on South Plainfield’s side, an error and a few missed opportunities resulted in a late go-ahead run for the Blue Wolves, which eventually handed South Plainfield a 4-3 loss, and ended their season.
South Plainfield head coach Don Panzarella said the game came down to just a few late plays.
“We’re a good team, they’re a good team, either way it could've gone,” said the coach. “That’s the way it goes. My hats off to this team.”
With the game tied 3-3 in the top of the seventh, the momentum at least seemed to be on the side of the Lady Tigers. South Plainfield entered the previous inning down three runs, but six consecutive sixth inning hits allowed them to go on a three-run game-tying rally. It didn’t take long for the Blue Wolves to strike back though. After a seventh inning leadoff walk by Ali Moran, Kayla Roberts hit a grounder towards shortstop. South Plainfield got the out at second, but an errant throw to first base on an attempted double play allowed pinch runner Christina Baird to score the eventual game-winning run.
“These kids have been playing good all year.; I’m not going to blame them,” said Panzarella. “We came back and that was a good thing.They’ve been playing 100 percent all year, they never quit. They’re down and I knew it wasn’t done. They believe in themselves and I believe in them too. It's just a couple things didn’t work out. That double play is number one probably, but (also other things like) striking out with (runners) at second and third.”
Hits from McKayla Sosa and Caity Hughes gave South Plainfield a chance to go on another run in the bottom of the seventh, but a failed attempted steal to second by Hughes all but ended the game. Blue Wolves pitcher Caylee English got the final out on a strikeout.
“(Hughes) is the fastest kid on my team, what are you gonna do?,” said Panzarella. “I feel bad...maybe I should've bunted her home, but then there’s two outs and you’re playing for one kid to get a hit. It just didn’t play out.”
South Plainfield’s Cameron Marks went 2-for-3 with a game tying RBI double in the sixth inning. Jillian Holoboski hit a double earlier in the inning, and a Blue Wolves fielding error on that play allowed Hughes and Jennifer Grasso to score.
The loss marks the end of a remarkable South Plainfield season that was led by a consistent and talented senior class. The play of Hughes, catcher Camryn Schaeffer and pitcher Katherine Vill have left a lasting mark on the South Plainfield program, and Panzarella says they’ll be a tough act to follow.
“(Hughes’) got over 170 hits with the program, Kat’s got over 88 wins, Schaeffer’s a great catcher; you can’t replace those kids,” said the coach. “They’ve been in my program for four years, so I don’t have anyone who’s going to replace them right now.
"The young kids, they were lucky to play with (the seniors). Maybe they learned from them how it is to win the state championship, and how hard you have to play to win and work hard, but we’re going to miss them. You’re not going to see kids like that come around too soon. That’s why when you’re here, you want to win everything.”