• Dan Russoman

St. Joe wins third-straight title


St. Joseph’s players display their trophy following last week’s South Jersey Non-Public B finals win against Gloucester Catholic. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—Abby Willis’ RBI single in the bottom of the sixth inning helped St. Joseph Academy’s softball team win its third-straight South Jersey Non-Public B championship last week as the Wildcats edged Gloucester Catholic 3-2.


“I was just trying to pick us up, trying to get a hit for our team. I wasn’t thinking about me, I was thinking about the team and how I could help them. When I got that hit, I was so happy for me and the team,” Willis said.


Willis’ single capped a late comeback for the Wildcats, who trailed 2-0 after three innings.


“This team was a challenge from the start,” St. Joseph coach Les Olson said.


“We had 10 new players and it was tough. I knew there would be a learning curve and I just kept telling them to have each other’s back out here and in school and just be a good teammate. We had our ups and downs but I knew if we stayed together, we’d be playing our best softball at the end of the season,” Olson said.


St. Joe struggled against Gloucester Catholic’s Adrianna Green for three innings, as the Rams’ pitcher set down the first nine Wildcats hitters of the game.


Trailing 2-0, the Wildcats broke through in the bottom of the fourth, as Katie Dainton led off with a walk and two batters later scored on a double from Xelynn Rodriguez.


Rodriguez had a pair of doubles in the game, scored twice and had an RBI in the win.


The senior first baseman has been one of the Wildcats top hitters this season.


“There’s a kid who got maybe six or seven at bats as a freshman, then lost her whole sophomore season to COVID-19. She grew up and matured a lot and she’s been pushing herself to get 100 hits. She’s a great kid,” Olson said of Rodriguez.


The focus on 100 hits and repeating as champions have been motivation for Rodriguez this season.


“I’m grateful to Coach Les [Olson] because he pushes you. My freshman year, I didn’t take criticism well, but my mom wanted me to stay and told me St. Joe softball is as good as it gets. It was worth it. It’s rare to have a team like this, to win back-to-back-to-back. I can’t ask for a better team,” Rodriguez said.


After Rodriguez’s RBI double, Ava Fisher doubled to tie the game 2-2.


Fisher earned the win for the Wildcats, allowing just three hits in the game while striking out nine and walking eight.


“She [Fisher] has struggled with her control all year, but she’s kind of gotten it under control the last couple of weeks. I’ve told her, ‘If you make teams earn their runs by getting hits, there aren’t too many teams in South Jersey that are going to get a bunch of runs off you.’ But she’s hung in there. They had some tough situations they put her in and she hung with them,” Olson said.


In the bottom of the sixth, St. Joe took the lead for good when Rodriguez led off with a double and two batters later, Willis sent a single into right field that drove home the game-winning run.


“She [Willis] has had a tremendous year. Back in March, in the scrimmages, she was almost shaking in the box, but now she’s much more confident. They [Gloucester Catholic] had just popped up one of our best hitters [Fisher] and she swung at a high pitch first, shook her head and came through for us,” Olson said.


The title was the third-straight for St. Joseph, which won in 2019 and 2021. There were no playoffs in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


The win sent St. Joe into the state finals, where the Wildcats lost to Morris Catholic 4-3.