• Dan Russoman

Blue Devils cruise into semifinals


Makenzie Edwards earned two wins as Hammonton notched playoff victories against Pinelands and Deptford last week. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—Strong hitting and excellent pitching led Hammonton High School’s softball team to a 6-1 win against Deptford last week, sending the Blue Devils to the semifinals of the South Jersey Group 3 playoffs.


Eight Blue Devils had hits in the win, as Hammonton continued to receive production from its entire lineup.


“We’ve been like that all season. It’s really kind of nice to know that, one-through-nine, we’re going to get hits,” Hammonton coach Eric Shulman said.


Not only can Hammonton’s hitters produce, the Blue Devils have several different type hitters up and down the lineup.


“We have a very balanced lineup. We have girls who get on base up top and a few who can hit the long ball in the middle and then some very good contact hitters at the bottom. So, we can beat you a lot of different ways. That makes it a little easier to coach,” Shulman said.


Hammonton’s versatility at the plate was on display against Deptford, as the Blue Devils were able to manufacture runs when they needed them.


“We certainly have power hitters, and we’ve had our share of home runs, but we can also win playing small ball, stringing together hits,” Shulman said.


Hammonton took an early lead in the bottom of the second inning, using five singles to score three runs.


Ava Livingston, who finished the game 3-for-4, led off with a single, but was retired on Ava Divello’s fielder’s choice. Lilly Miller and Victoria Esau followed with singles, but Divello was forced at the plate when Sophia Vento grounded to second. Makenzie Edwards then hit an RBI single and Riley Lancaster followed with a two-run hit to give Hammonton the lead for good.


All three runs came with two outs, another trend the Blue Devils have featured this season.


“We’ve been very successful with two outs. I think our girls just don’t feel the pressure sometimes. They just stay focused. We work a lot on situational hitting and how to handle different situations, like when there’s two outs,” Shulman said.


Hammonton added three runs in the bottom of the third, once again scoring all of them with two outs and using three singles to start the rally.


Livingston, Divello and Miller each singled to load the bases before Vento was hit by a pitch to drive in a run. Edwards then reached on an error, scoring two more runs.


Edwards, a senior, cruised through the first four innings in the circle, striking out four before Deptford scored its only run in the top of the fifth, as Brianna Stocklin doubled in a run.


“Kenzie [Edwards] did what she always does, which is throw strikes and keep us in the game. She’s had an awesome season,” Shulman said.


After allowing the run, Edwards retired seven of the last eight batters she faced to earn the win.


The quarterfinal win against Deptford came two days after Hammonton opened the playoffs with a lopsided 14-1 win against Pinelands.


The visiting Pioneers scored a run in the top of the first inning, but Edwards settled in after allowing a leadoff double and only allowed one more baserunner the rest of the way, striking out nine in five innings, including the last four batters she faced.


After falling behind early, Hammonton took the lead in the bottom of the first as Krista Tzaferos belted a two-run homer.


In the second, Edwards hit a two-out triple to spark a five-run rally. Lancaster, Tzaferos and Livingston each drove in runs before Miller added a two-run single for a 7-1 lead.


Vento tripled to lead off the third for Hammonton, and she scored on Edwards’s sacrifice fly. After Lancaster doubled, Alexa Panagopoylos, Tzaferos and Livingston all drove in runs as Hammonton stretched its lead to 11-1.


The last three runs came in the fourth when Edwards hit a three-run home run.


The two wins sent the Blue Devils into the semifinals where they will host Toms River East on June 9 at 2 p.m.