• Dan Russoman

St. Joseph rolls into finals


St. Joseph’s Macie Jacquet dives across the plate to score a run early in the Wildcats’ playoff win against Doane Academy last week. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—A few pitches into last week’s South Jersey Non-Public B semifinal game, Doane Academy head coach Sean Yackel glanced at St. Joseph Academy pitcher Makayla Veneziale and made a short comment.


“My girls aren’t going to hit her,” Yackel said.


The Spartans’ coach’s assessment proved accurate, as his squad managed just two hits in five innings off Veneziale, who helped lead St. Joe to an 11-1 win that sent the Wildcats into the championship game played earlier this week.


Veneziale, who struck out nine to earn the win, added three RBIs in the game for St. Joseph.


“It feels great to be going to the championship game again, especially because we didn’t get to play at all last season. This was one of our goals this season, to get back to the championship and win again,” Veneziale said.


The senior dominated the Spartans, making just one mistake, a changeup she left up in the zone in the fourth inning that Doane’s Ciera Yackel drove over the left field fence.


“She hit my changeup. It was a mistake,” Veneziale said.


That was the lone blemish on an excellent day for St. Joe’s ace. Veneziale retired the side in order in four of the five innings she pitched.


“I felt good. I was upset at the home run, but I thought I did a good job today, especially hitting,” Veneziale said.


St. Joseph’s pitcher led a 14-hit attack for the Wildcats, as she and teammates Brianna Bailey and Macie Jacquet each had three hits in the game.


“We just kept battling at the plate and the hits fell in where they needed to be,” St. Joseph coach Les Olson said.


This week’s championship game marks the third for Olson during his five-year tenure at St. Joe. The Wildcats lost the title in 2018 before winning the following season. While at Sacred Heart, Olson won three South Jersey crowns and the state championship in 2012.


“Tonight [June 10] is our graduation, so we wanted to give the seniors an early gift,” Olson said.


“It’s exciting to be going to the championship game again. We practice three hours every day and that’s why we do it,” he said.


St. Joe took control of last week’s game in the bottom of the first when Jacquet singled, stole second and scored on a throwing error. Later in the frame, Veneziale and Karlee Middleman added RBI singles to give the Wildcats a 3-0 lead.


In the fourth, St. Joe tacked on six more runs as Bailey and Jacquet had RBI singles before Daviana Jimenez drove in two and Veneziale added another RBI single.


The game ended in the bottom of the fifth, after Bailey singled and scored on Katie Dainton’s hit, then Veneziale hit a soft ground ball that stayed in fair territory down the first base line, allowing Dainton to round the bases for the game-clinching run.


Bailey, who transferred to St. Joseph after playing on a Wildwood Catholic team that beat the Wildcats in the 2018 final, was excited to be headed back to the championship game.


“It feels great to be in the South Jersey final, especially with this team, because it’s special,” Bailey said.


Jacquet, St. Joe’s catcher, is headed to the finals for the first time.


“It’s exciting. I didn’t get a chance to play at all last year because the season was canceled, so to be out here this year and playing for a championship, it’s awesome,” Jacquet said.


Earlier last week, St. Joseph opened its playoff run with an 8-0 win against Our Lady of Mercy Academy (OLMA).


Veneziale went the distance in that game, allowing just three hits while striking out 10.


A pair of errors allowed St. Joe to take a 1-0 lead in the first, and the Wildcats added two in the bottom of the third on Xelynn Conde’s double.


Bailey drove in a run in the fourth, and in the sixth the Wildcats pulled away with four more runs.


The two victories sent the Wildcats into the South Jersey title game on June 14. The winner advanced to the state finals later this week against the North Jersey Non-Public B champion.