• Dan Russoman

ST. JOE REPEATS AS SOUTH JERSEY CHAMPS

Shut out Gill St. Bernard’s for title


St. Joseph Academy’s softball team displays its trophy after winning the South Jersey Non-Public B championship last week. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—It took more than two years, but St. Joseph Academy’s softball team defended its South Jersey Non-Public B title last week, defeating Gill St. Bernard 7-0 to win its second-straight sectional championship.


The Wildcats won the title in 2019, but were unable to defend it last spring as the season was lost to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Back on the field this year, St. Joe repeated as champions.


“It feels great to win it again. That was our goal this season, to win another South Jersey championship,” senior pitcher Makayla Veneziale said.


Veneziale delivered in the circle for St. Joe in the championship game, allowing just three hits while walking one and striking out four. The senior has ranked among the state leaders in strikeouts this season, but took a different approach against Gill St. Bernard.


“I have some friends who play for Gloucester Catholic and they played them [Gill St. Bernard]. They told me they were a really good hitting team, so I just concentrated on getting my spins and moving the ball around. We have a really good defense, so I let them do the work,” Veneziale said.


St. Joseph grabbed an early lead when Brianna Bailey led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run.


“I saw the ball really well today. I never hit a home run to lead off a game before. I think the pitch was a bit outside. That really helped the team to get our energy up for the game,” Bailey said.


Bailey, a senior, missed her first season at St. Joe after transferring from Wildwood Catholic prior to last season. In last week’s championship game she went 3-for-3, scored three times and fell a double short of a cycle.


Along with being one of St. Joe’s top hitters, Bailey has been a defensive leader for the Wildcats.


“She’s shy kid, but she runs that defense. It was a little struggle with her being boisterous, but I told her your college coach is going to demand that of you so let’s get used to doing that,” St. Joseph coach Les Olson said of Bailey, who will play at Iona College next spring.


“Working in practice, setting that example for the girls, diving in the hole, diving up the middle, just making those plays and the calming effect she has, you can’t replace that,” Olson said of Bailey.


Bailey was part of a five-run rally in the bottom of the fifth that helped St. Joe take control of what had been a close game.


After Bella David singled to start the inning, Bailey walked and Macie Jacquet singled to load the bases for Katie Dainton, who singled in a run. Davianna Jimenez then grounded to second to drive in another run and Xelynn Conde followed with a single that scored two more runs. With one out, Jenna Calchi grounded out to second, scoring Jimenez for a 6-0 lead.


At that point the game was all but decided, as Veneziale worked through two more shutout innings to preserve the win.


In the sixth, St. Joe added a run when Bailey tripled and Dainton hit into a fielder’s choice to drive in the run.


“We talked about Gill St. Bernard’s being a team where we won’t be able to strike a lot of people out, so we’d have to play really good defense,” Olson said.


“We did that today. Brianna [Bailey] getting that homer to start the game really set the tone and helped the whole team ease back and get rid of some of their nerves. We usually have a big inning early or late. We don’t just get runs a little at a time,” he said.


Winning the title was a goal for the Wildcats all season, but they had an even bigger one in mind after the game: a state championship.


“We want to win [the state championship], that’s the goal. It’s the first time winning for a new school. Today was exciting for our school and all, but our big goal is Friday [the state finals],” Veneziale said.


“It would mean the world for these kids to be the first ones and for the school in general,” Olson said.


St. Joe went on to play Morris Catholic for the state championship, but despite a solid performance, fell short in a 2-0 loss that ended the season for the Wildcats.