By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
DEPTFORD — A few minutes after the conclusion of the Group 4 softball semifinals at Rowan Gloucester County College, Egg Harbor Township senior pitcher Tori Szrom had an oversized bag of ice encasing her right shoulder. And one on her right elbow. And one on her right knee. And one on her left knee. She looked like she needed a hot shower, a cold jug of water, and a comfortable couch on which to take about a nine-hour nap.
For the second straight day, Szrom threw all seven innings for the Eagles, and while she got a little roughed up in Wednesday’s South Jersey Group 4 championship win over Rancocas Valley, she was on point on Thursday. Szrom tossed a 5-hit shutout as the Eagles took down Montgomery, 2-0, in the Group 4 semifinals to punch their ticket to the state championship game for the second consecutive year. Egg Harbor Township, now 22-0, will take on North Hunterdon, a 2-1 winner over Morris Knolls in the other Group 4 semifinal, this weekend at Kean University in Union.
“It’s kind of overwhelming, but I’m excited and I just want to keep going. Coming into the game, I knew it was going to be a 1-run type of game. I knew I couldn’t give up any runs, and I was just trying to get outs,” Szrom said. “We’re just always fighting. We never give up. Last year was a shock to everyone, but getting back there is even harder. We just have to be confident and go up there like we know we’re going to win.”
“I have no words. I’m so happy, though. We always find a way to execute and get those runs in,” said right fielder Marissa Varela, who made a diving catch to rob Tori Ferraiolo of a leadoff single in the top of the fifth inning. “(Szrom) is phenomenal. I am so proud, so happy, so excited. We just need to get the job done. We know we have each other’s backs, so if we’re down we’re going to pick each other up, and if we’re up we’re going to keep it rolling. We always have each other’s backs.”
“She’s a gamer. She wants the ball,” EHT coach Mary Dunlap said of Szrom, a senior who took over full time inside the circle this year for Nicole Wisser after serving as the No. 2 pitcher a year ago. “Even last year, I know she wanted the ball more than I gave it to her, and there have been moments in her career when she has said, ‘just give me the ball.’ For somebody to have that drive, I’ll take that any day.”
The game was scoreless into the bottom of the fourth, as Szrom and Cougars ace Peyton Schnackenberg matched zeroes. But the Eagles somehow found a way to scratch two runs across to take the lead. Alyssa Martini singled to start the inning and advanced to second on a throwing error from the outfield, then Dunlap decided to bunt with Szrom, the No. 3 hitter in the lineup. Another throwing error on the bunt plated Martini, and two batters later courtesy runner Peyton McGowan, a freshman, raced home from third on a check swing groundout by Varela.
“It’s just an opportunity. I saw the opportunity, and I went for it,” McGowan said. “We just had to keep our energy up and just go for it. Tori does a great job and shows no fear. We’ve been working hard, and we’ll be going for (the state championship).”
Montgromery (24-3) put a pair of runners on base in the top of the sixth, but Szrom worked out of the jam with a pair of pop-outs. The Cougars also put the tying runs on base in the seventh, but Eagles third baseman Elisabeth Alicea attoned for an earlier error by snaring a ground ball and stepping on third for the final out.
“That’s something we’ve been saying all along is to make sure we have each other’s backs,” Dunlap said. “Alicea had a basic, routine ground ball where she didn’t execute, but she got a chance to make a play at the end.”
Dunlap said this team has been laser focused on returning to the state championship all season long.
“We’re just ready to play and we want to win. We want to finish what we didn’t finish last year,” Dunlap said. “All year long, even at the beginning, we’ve always taken in one game at a time. There was one significant moment a few years ago (a loss to Atlantic City) when we looked too far ahead and we lost, early in the playoffs, and we learned from that mistake. We’re not going to do that again.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullsays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN