UNION-It’s no secret that Julia Parker has the ability to play beyond her years when she’s in the circle. The sophomore right-hander has been consistent for St. John Vianney High School’s softball team all season, and on Saturday evening, on the biggest stage of the year so far, the South Plainfield native’s poise came through again.
In the championship game of the Non-Public A Tournament, Parker battled through tough situations in multiple innings to lead the Lancers (26-0) past Mount St. Dominic 2-1 to claim the program’s first state title since 2013.
For Kim Lombardi, the 14-year head coach of St. John Vianney, there was never any doubt that her sophomore pitcher could lead the team to a state championship.
“We talked about what we were going to do before the season started, and I told (Parker), if she can hit her spots and be like a workhorse out there, she was going to win a state championship this year,” Lombardi said moments after her team was presented with the Non-Public A trophy.
Despite allowing seven hits and eight baserunners to Mount St. Dominic (25-8), Parker and her defense always came through when they really needed to. A double from Alexa Raphael and a single and a stolen base by Dani Dabroksi put potential tying and go-ahead runs on second and third base for the Lions in the bottom of the seventh inning with two outs remaining.
Parker persevered though, and forced an infield pop out and a ground out to clinch the win. Parker also stranded two runners on base in the sixth inning, and delivered a clutch strikeout on Sarah Taffett to close out the fifth inning with a runner on third. Even when Julianna Kocenski knocked a deep home run to left off her in the fourth inning, Parker stayed composed and closed the inning out with a strikeout.
“After a good hit, I just knew I had to get the next batter,” Parker said after the game. “Strike her out, our trust my defense.”
“When you get a big out at the end of the inning, it’s just excellent. (It creates) a good mind set going into your offense, and then defensively.”
Parker finished the game with seven strikeouts and three walks.
”She’s so determined I think she’s harder to hit when runners are in scoring position,” Lombardi added. She has excellent poise. She’s a great team player, and a great leader. She’s a silent leader, and she gets the job done on the mound.”
Both of St. John Vianney’s runs came off a gamble that paid off in a huge way. In a two-out situation in the second inning with Gabby Polera on second base off a walk and a steal, Ally Jones clubbed a ball past the reach of Mount St. Dominic’s third basemen. Polera was given the go-ahead to take third and then home, and reached the plate with some room to spare..
In the next at-bat Gillian Zack, drove one out deep. The Lancers went for the same gamble and directed Jones to go home. The Lions’ outfielder made the throw to the the plate, but the Lions catcher was unable to hold onto the ball staking the Lancers out to a 2-0 lead.
For Lombardi there was no chance her team wasn’t going to go for that second run.
“Those might’ve been my only two situations (to score all game) and they were,” the coach said. “I’m gonna do that every time. You have to take that chance in a big game and that may have been the difference between winning and losing today.”
Lombardi described reaching her first state title in five years as getting a monkey off her back. Even with that well-deserved sense of accomplishment, the Lancers are still keeping their blinders on to finish off the season. The state title win booked the team a place in the second-ever Tournament of Champions, which will start of in the coming week, but first they have business to take care of with Donovan Catholic in the finals of the Shore Conference final this Monday.. The Lancers edged out their formerly undefeated rivals 2-0 in the state semis last week.
“We’ll take it one game at a time,” Lombardi said. “We’re not worried, but focused on Donovan Catholic on Monday.”
The conference final will take place at Count Basie Park in Red Bank at 7PM.