St. Joseph brings home state title
UNION—Erasing years of frustration in the state finals, St. Joseph Academy’s softball team rolled past Morris Catholic 7-1 on June 9, claiming the program’s first state championship.
“It’s amazing, better than I ever thought. Being on the losing side the last two years, it’s like this is what it feels like to win. It was a pride thing for us, losing to them two years straight, this is all we played for,” senior catcher Macie Jacquet said.
Ava Fisher was dominant in the circle for the Wildcats, limiting Morris Catholic to just three hits while walking three and striking out 14.
“I came out with a plan We knew we had to play tight defense. We’ve been practicing all week and we just knew that it doesn’t matter about strikeouts or anything. My defense had my back and we all had the energy from the bus ride,” Fisher said.
The junior righty started slowly, but after stranding three runners in the bottom of the first, settled in and controlled the rest of the game.
“I was a little nervous coming in, you always get that for a championship game. But I just take deep breaths and it’s all about my cadence when I’m pitching and slowing my heart rate down. I just take my time, walk around and I usually stare at trees around the field to calm myself down. There weren’t a lot of trees so I was just looking around at the poles and stuff, but It didn’t really bother me. I just had to stay in my own game because once I’m out of my game it’s their game,” Fisher said.
Nerves may have been an issue to start the game, but Fisher was confident she would pitch well.
“I felt loose, I felt good. I’m not going to lie, I had a pretty poor warmup, and a bad pitching lesson last night and when I have a bad lesson, I usually have a good game the day after and last night was one of those nights. So, I’m glad I got all the heebie-jeebies out,” she said.
Fisher was able to work ahead of hitters for most of the game, mixing pitches well for seven innings.
“Once I see people chasing (the riser) I’m going to keep throwing it and my favorite sequence is the changeup, then a riser to see people chase, then the high ball over their head,” Fisher said.
Morris Catholic had defeated St. Joseph in the last two state championship games, taking advantage of mistakes by the Wildcats to win a pair of titles.
The Cougars were confident they would take home another win last week, but St. Joe avoided miscues and had Morris Catholic on its heels the entire game.
Freshman center fielder Alaina Dorsey set the tone immediately, leading off the game with a triple. The Wildcats stranded Dorsey at third, as Morris Catholic starter Hannah Streicher retired the next three hitter to keep St. Joe off the scoreboard.
The Cougars escaped the jam, but St. Joe had sent a message that this game would be different form the last two.
After striking out the first two hitters in the bottom of the first, Fisher issued a walk and gave up a double. After intentionally walking Streicher to load the bases, Fisher struck out Elia Mizeski to end the threat.
Both teams had worked out of trouble and Fisher said the start helped the Wildcats gain confidence.
“I felt like I had great command of most of my pitches and the energy after Alaina’s triple was immense, there was no stopping us,” she said.
After missing a chance to score in the first, St. Joseph took control of the game in the top of the second, scoring three runs.
Kylie Tomlin led off with a single, and Jenna Calchi reached when her bunt was mishandled.
Bella Davis sacrificed the runners to second and third and Tomlin was thrown out at the plate when Angelina Bill reached on a fielder’s choice. Bella Ramos walked to load the bases, setting up Dorsey to deliver perhaps the biggest hit of the game.
After taking a pitch, the freshman sent a long fly ball to right field for another triple, clearing the bases and giving the Wildcats a 3-0 lead.
Dorsey had injured her ankle in St. Joe’s South Jersey championship game win against Gloucester Catholic and didn’t practice much leading up to last week’s game.
“I got an ankle injury, missed time this week, but today I was ready to go. I felt loose, ready to go to dive in and win, losing never came into my mind,” Dorsey said
The leadoff triple gave the Wildcats energy to start the game and her second big hit gave her team a lead it never relinquished.
“It really did get us started. I wanted to get us started right, showing we could do this. I wanted everyone to know it’s game time,” Dorsey said.
In the second, Tomlin once again started a rally for St. Joe, lining a single, advancing twice on passed balls and scoring on a perfectly-placed squeeze bunt from Davis.
Fisher cruised through the second and third before allowing a leadoff home run to Kate Heslin in the bottom of the fourth.
“She missed with one pitch there, but she regrouped and worked out of it,” St. Joseph coach Les Olson said.
It was one of just a few bad pitches for Fisher, who was in command for most of the game.
“She was focused tonight. Even when she’s pitching a good game she has that tendency to go 3-1, 3-0 to a lot of hitters, but she did that to very few tonight. She had that first pitch changeup for strikes, hitting the corner for strikes, getting ahead and when she does that it’s even tougher [to beat her].” Olson said.
Leading 4-1, St. Joe put the game away in the top of the sixth.
Bill led off with a double, and two batters later, Morris Catholic intentionally walked Dorsey.
Jacquet followed with a bloop double over third base, driving in Bill and after Fisher was put on intentionally, Abby Willis’ ground ball scored Dorsey and Tomlin followed with a sacrifice fly to drive in Jacquet.
Morris Catholic stranded a runner in the sixth and in the bottom of the seventh, Fisher retired the side in order to close out the win and set off a spirited celebration for the Wildcats.
“It’s awesome, I think I still have an adrenaline rush going through me because it just doesn’t seem real, I feel it might not hit me for a couple of days. This team is just amazing. This is what we’ve been working for all year,” Fisher said.
The championship was St. Joseph’s first in 10 visits to the state finals.
“It’s good to get that 0-fer out of the way and get the first one for the school. We had a heck of a week of practice and they came with a focus and they came up here to win,” Olson said.
Olson won a state championship with Sacred Heart in 2012 and the longtime coach told his team he felt they were a lot like that title-winner.
“I told them yesterday I had a special feeling with that Sacred Heart team and I got that feeling again.”
I told them the other day that I was feeling the same way I did in 2012,” Olson said.
Olson played his team a video of last year’s loss to Morris Catholic to show them where they had made mistakes and to provide a little bit more motivation for this year’s game.
“Three days ago, we watched last year’s game in the lecture hall, and pointed out all those little things that you really have to hone in on. It’s those little things that are big in a game like this,” he said.
The move worked, as the Wildcats showed up ready to erase two seasons of bad memories.
“Coach always says keep it in your back pocket, so we kept it in our back pocket from last year’s loss,” Fisher said.