By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
DEPTFORD — The Cedar Creek softball team was playing with house money on Thursday at the state Group 2 semifinals at Rowan Gloucester Community College. The Pirates had never won a sectional title until Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Manchester, much less been one game away from competing for a state championship.
So, the Pirates put all their chips onto the table. Unfortunately, the roll came up snake eyes for Shawn Cohen’s group. Robbinsville was simply too good.
The Ravens took a 4-0 lead after three innings, tacked on three more in the fourth, then ended it in the sixth on a three-run double to left-center field by Mackenzie Medders. The 10-0 win puts Robbinsville into the state championship game against Ramsey, a 12-2 winner over Hackettstown in the other semifinal.
Kate Hunter was masterful inside the circle for the Ravens, limiting Cedar Creek to just a walk by Brianna Young and a sixth-inning double by Venizya Sanchez.
“She was a tough pitcher. Every time she got two strikes she would come up high, and it looked good so everyone would swing,” Young said.
“We saw one pitcher who I believe was better, Kingsway pitcher (Grace Fagan), but other than her, this was the next best pitcher. She hit her spots and had great command of the ball and threw first-pitch strikes,” said Cedar Creek coach Shawn Cohen. “The past couple of games we’ve been able to work the count, but today we got down in the count a lot and that was tough on us. She got a couple of quick strikes and that rise pitch ate us up today.”
“She had a lot of control and had a lot of moment on her pitches, so I feel like it was hard for us to take the ball anywhere,” Sanchez added. “Their whole team was really fast, especially that first hitter.”
Robbinsville dominated with its speed, particularly leadoff hitter Chelsea Manto, the Ravens’ junior shortstop. In her first three at-bats, Manto — a lefty slap hitter — had three infield singles, two stolen bases and scored three times. The only time the Pirates were able to retire her was when she lined into a double play in the fifth.
Despite a lack of offense, the Pirates (16-11) were within striking distance heading into the bottom of the fourth, but Hunter ripped a two-run single up the middle to push the lead to 6-0, and Olivia Moser followed with a run-scoring single up the middle to make it 7-0.
Robbinsville (23-4) is no stranger to the group semifinals and championship rounds, as annually the Ravens are one of the teams to beat in Central Jersey Group 2. Still, Cedar Creek sophomore Ally Schlee, one of the stars of the Pirates’ postseason run, held her own throughout much of the game.
“They exuded confidence on the field,” Cohen said of the Ravens. “I had a long conversation last night with Buena coach Pam Pickett and she said, ‘they are always there. Maybe you can shock them because they’ve never seen you before and they’ve never seen Ally, so just give it a go.’ We tried, and Ally was very composed on the mound. They knocked her around a little bit, but even when they were beating out ground balls to the infielders she didn’t collapse or stress out about it.”
The Pirates vowed to return to the group semifinals, sooner rather than later. They only graduate two seniors — third baseman Sage Errera and catcher MyKayla Bird — so they might be set up to challenge for a sectional title again next spring.
“What I said to them was, out of all the teams I’ve coached — and I’ve had some talented teams — there’s no other team that I would want to be here in this situation with today than these girls. The way they go about practice, the way they came into the season, and the way they meshed in the middle of the season — we started out 2-5 and it was a rough beginning, but I just said we’re losing early but we need to win late, and we did. There’s no other team I’d rather be here with,” Cohen said. “We only lose two seniors — now, it’s two key seniors, third base is the hot corner, and my catcher who has called pretty much every pitch since she’s been a freshman — they are going to be tough to replace, but I have a good, young core that is returning next year.”
Said Young, “It’s been a great season. For the seniors, being able to say they won a South Jersey title is great, and we can’t wait until next year. It feels good to get this far.”
Added Sanchez, “I think we’re going to be ready for next year because now we know what to expect. (Robbinsville) has been here a lot of times and this is our first time. We just talked about how this is the furthest we have ever been, and next year we expect to get even further.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN