• Dan Russoman

Hammonton falls in Group 3 semis


Sophia Vento takes a lead off second base. Vento and Hammonton’s softball team were knocked out of the South Jersey Group 3 playoffs last week. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—A bad hop and a few inches kept Hammonton High School’s softball team from returning to the South Jersey Group 3 finals last week as the defending champion Blue Devils lost to Delsea Regional 2-1 in extra innings.


Delsea was able to score a run in the top of the eighth inning to end Hammonton’s season and deny the Blue Devils a chance to defend their title.


“It always hurts to lose a game like this, but we can’t beat ourselves up. Our girls gave everything they had, did everything we asked them to do. Delsea’s a good team, and it just wasn’t our day. Sometimes you do everything right and you don’t come out on top,” Hammonton coach Eric Shulman said.


The game was a pitchers’ duel throughout as Delsea’s Gianna Dougherty and Hammonton’s April Lewandowski battled for eight innings.


Neither team was able to break through for a run until the top of the fourth when Delsea’s Brooke Clark connected for a solo home run. The homer snapped a string of 11-straight hitters retired by Lewandowski.


Hammonton battled back to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth. Sophia Vento led off the inning with a single and scored on Riley Lancaster’s triple to tie the game 1-1.


The Blue Devils were threatening to break the game open, but Dougherty was able to work out of trouble and keep the game tied. After hitting Alexa Panagopoylos with a pitch to put runners on first and third, Dougherty coaxed a fielder’s choice for the first out, then won a long battle with Ava Divello, striking out Hammonton’s center fielder after Divello had fouled off a half-dozen pitches. With two outs, Dougherty retired the side on an infield pop up, leaving Hammonton frustrated by the missed opportunity.


“In the sixth inning we have to be able to punch something through, hit something hard enough and make the action happen. We couldn’t finish that inning out,” Shulman said.


Tied 1-1, the game headed into extra innings.


A bad break cost Hammonton in the top of the eighth, allowing Delsea to take a 2-1 lead.


With two outs and two on, Dougherty hit a sharp ground ball to short. Victoria Esau’s throw was slightly high and took Hammonton’s first baseman off the bag, allowing Dougherty to reach base safely.


Alyssa Dare then sent what appeared to be an inning-ending ground ball to third, but the ball looked to hit a rock and deflected off third baseman Panagopoylos who was able to corral the ball and tag out a runner at third after the go-ahead run had crossed the plate.


“[There’s] nothing she [Panagopoylos] could have done. The ball hits a rock and then hits you in the face. It’s one of the things that happens in this sport,” Shulman said.


Panagopoylos had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the eighth. With a runner on and one out, the junior crushed a drive to deep center field where it was caught up against the fence. Krista Tzaferos singled to keep the inning alive for Hammonton, but with two outs, Dougherty fielded a ground ball back to the circle to end the game and the season for the Blue Devils.


“We’re proud of them. Last year, we kind of snuck on a lot of people and won the championship. This year, we had a huge target on our back and they just fought hard the whole season,” Shulman said.