BLUE DEVILS WIN SOUTH JERSEY TITLE
Miller’s single in seventh helps Hammonton edge Central 1-0
BERKELEY TWP.—Seniors Lily Miller and Kenzie Edwards delivered for Hammonton High School’s softball team last weekend, leading the Blue Devils to their second South Jersey Group 3 title in four years, as HHS edged Central Regional 1-0 to win the championship.
Miller’s RBI single in the top of the seventh inning was the only run of the game and made a winner of Edwards who sparkled in the circle to earn the second title game win of her high school career.
“It’s amazing. This was my goal when the season began, to get back to the championship game and win again. We won my freshman year and I wanted to end my career the same way. I’m just so happy,” Edwards said.
The senior spent the game locked in a duel with Central’s Hannah Costa, as they each cruised through the first six innings, avoiding any real trouble.
Central put a pair of runners on base in the bottom of the first inning, but Edwards struck out the Golden Eagles’ best hitter, Ava Cino, before coaxing a ground ball to short from Costa to end the threat.
Central would not see another runner advance past first base until the bottom of the seventh, as Edwards kept one of the region’s top hitting teams off the bases for much of the game.
“I came up [to Central] last week with one of my assistants to watch their semifinal game and after that, I kind of knew what to expect today. Their pitcher [Costa] is very good and I knew it would be a low-scoring, short game. Kenzie [Edwards] does a phenomenal job for us every game. We were very confident with her out there. I was hoping we could just push a run across and Lily [Miller] stepped up in a huge spot for us today,” Hammonton coach Eric Shulman said.
Hammonton missed a chance to take the lead in the fourth inning after Riley Lancaster launched a triple down the right field line to lead off the frame. Costa pitched out of the jam, however, stranding Lancaster at third to keep the game scoreless.
In the seventh, the Blue Devils finally broke through, rallying for the run that won the game.
Krista Tzaferos drew a one-out walk, one of just two issued by Costa on the day, to start the rally. Shulman sent in Jolina Balinsky to pinch run, and she moved to second on Ava Livingston’s sacrifice bunt.
“I don’t think Ava Livingston has ever bunted in her life, but she put down a beauty,” Shulman said.
With one out, Ava Divello sent a ground ball to third base and beat out the throw to first, advancing Balinsky to third base.
Next up was Miller, and the senior catcher hit a hard ground ball up the middle that went into center field, allowing Balinsky to cross the plate with the go-ahead run.
“When I was at the plate [in the seventh inning], I was shaking. But when I hit it, it was the best feeling ever. We were having trouble hitting early in the game but I was confident that we would break through,” Miller said.
Miller sometimes gets lost among the many strong hitters in Hammonton’s lineup, but the senior was the one who delivered in the biggest spot for the Blue Devils.
“Lily sometimes gets overlooked, but she’s been one of our leaders all year. She’s a veteran and knows how to handle the pressure. I was very confident with her at the plate in that situation,” Shulman said.
Central was down, but the Golden Eagles fought back in the bottom of the seventh.
Martine Chevalier led off with a single, and reached second on a sacrifice bunt from Mackenzie Hart.
A wild pitch allowed Chevalier to reach third, but Edwards got Kelsey Lowden to pop up for the second out, then battled to strike out Payton Koenig to end the game.
“She [Koenig] was their nine hitter, and I didn’t want the top of the lineup coming up again. I told myself I was going to strike her out,” Edwards said.
“This is really special because we’re such a young team. I don’t think anyone was expecting this from us but we came through and won the South Jersey group here. I mean that’s amazing,” Miller said.
“At the beginning of the season, I don’t think we really knew what to expect. I think we felt we could be really good, because we had some good players back, but they’ve all stepped up and done an amazing job. I couldn’t be more proud,” Shulman said.
Hammonton reached the title game after defeating Toms River East 2-0 in the semifinals.
In that game, the Blue Devils scored once in the first on Tzaferos’ RBI double, then added a run in the third after Edwards walked and scored on a double from Alexa Panagopoylos.
Edwards earned the win, shutting out Toms River East on six hits and a walk, striking out nine.
Earlier this week, Hammonton hosted Central Jersey Group 3 champ Colts Neck in a state semifinal game. That game ended too late for this edition. The winner advances to the state finals later this week.