• Dan Russoman

Hammonton holds on to top Vineland


Hammonton’s Gracie Ravenkamp slides around the tag of Vineland third baseman Victoria Negron during last week’s game. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—Hammonton High School’s softball team overcame some sloppy play and a pesky Vineland squad to win its season-opening game last week 13-10.


The Blue Devils hammered out 16 hits on a blustery afternoon, building a 13-6 lead before holding off a last-inning rally by the Fighting Clan for the victory.


“Any time you get a win, I think you have to be happy,” Hammonton coach Eric Shulman said.


A few miscues in the field and some fortunate bounces helped keep Vineland in the game, as the visitors constantly put pressure on Hammonton’s defense.


Shulman chalked up the somewhat sloppy play on his team’s limited preseason action.


“It’s the season opener and we only had two scrimmages, so it was tough because there are situations that you can’t practice and work on that you maybe would have seen in a scrimmage. So, we’re happy we won, but there are things we need to work on,” he said.


Hammonton entered the game favored against a Vineland team that is considered to be rebuilding under first-year head coach Mike Reed, but the Fighting Clan immediately put pressure on Hammonton in the top of the first inning and never let up until the final out.


“Give Vineland credit they put the ball in play and did some nice things but we hurt ourselves a little, too,” Shulman said.


In the top of the first, Vineland took advantage of two walks and a single to load the bases off Hammonton pitcher April Lewandowski. With one out and three runners on base, Lewandowski worked out of the jam, striking out two-straight hitters to end the inning.


In the bottom of the first, the Blue Devils struck for three runs, as Sophia Vento led off with a double and Gracie Ravenkamp walked before both scored when Krista Tzaferos reached on an error.


Two batters later, Ava Divello tripled to drive in Tzaferos.


Vineland put a run on the board in the second after Franki Celebre singled and scored on a base hit from Anaya Troy.


Hammonton responded with another three-run rally, this one sparked by Victoria Esau’s one-out single. With two down and Esau on second base, Ravenkamp reached on an error, allowing the runner to score for a 4-1 lead. Alexa Panagopoylos doubled and Tzaferos followed with a two-run double to put Hammonton on top 6-1.


In the third, Vineland scored two runs on Leilani Colaneri’s double, but once again, Hammonton answered in its half of the inning.


In the bottom of the third, back-to-back singles from Divello and Lewandowski started the inning, and Divello eventually scored on a wild pitch. With two outs, Ravenkamp singled in a run for an 8-3 lead.


Vineland put two runners on base in the fourth, but Lewandowski was able to work out of trouble without allowing a run.


The senior worked in and out of jams the whole game, but delivered when she needed to, helping Hammonton earn the win.


“She [Lewandowski] did a very good job, did some very nice things. Some of her troubles came from falling behind hitters, but she also made some really nice pitches and we couldn’t make the play in the field,” Shulman said.


After Hammonton tacked on a run in the bottom of the fourth when Tzaferos doubled and scored on Divello’s single, Vineland added a run in the fifth to trim the Blue Devils’ lead to 9-4.


Panagopoylos’ RBI single in the fifth gave Hammonton a 10-4 lead, but an error in the top of the sixth helped Vineland stay close after Madison Cantoni belted a two-run homer.


“You have to be able to pitch out of trouble and be able to help your pitcher in the field,” Shulman said.


“We had some clutch, two-out hits. Vineland also hit the ball well but we didn’t always make the plays we needed to make,” he said.


Realizing Vineland was closing the gap, Hammonton responded with a three-run rally in the bottom of the sixth inning.


Ava Livingston reached on an error to start the inning, and Divello followed with an RBI single. Two batters later, Riley Lancaster singled in a run and Vento doubled in another for a 13-6 lead.


Vineland wasn’t finished, and sent nine batters to the plate in the top of the seventh, scoring four times to make the final score 13-10.


Hammonton committed three errors in the game and also made a few poor decisions in the field. Vineland seized its scoring opportunities and played with spirt and intensity as it tried to knock off the Blue Devils.


As defending South Jersey Group 3 champions, Hammonton is well aware that opponents will play their best against them in every game.


“Last year, we won with a group that didn’t have a lot of varsity experience and they have to realize that it’s not that easy, you have to work hard,” Shulman said.


“We preach to the kids that we have a target on us and we know the kids understand that. Sometimes I’m not sure that it always computes with them. Being high school kids, they don’t always realize that teams are going to play harder against us. Sometimes it takes a loss or a game like this to knock you down a peg and realize that you can’t let up, you have to go hard all the time,” Shulman said.


Divello finished last week’s game 4-for-4 with two runs and three RBIs. Tzaferos added two doubles, three RBIs and two runs scored, while Vento scored twice and drove in a run and Panagopoylos added two RBIs. Ravenkamp, a freshman making her varsity debut, was on base three times, scored twice and drove in a run.


Earlier this week, Hammonton hosted Cedar Creek, but that game ended too late for this edition. On April 6, the Blue Devils host Atlantic County Institute of Technology (ACIT) at 4 p.m.