The Shawnee softball team came roaring back to life in the bottom of the seventh inning of the South Jersey Group 4 championship game Thursday.
Maureen Hepner slugged a two-out, bases-loaded double to left field to score Kelly Dickinson and Annie Johnson, and the Renegades trailed visiting Eastern by a run.
However, Eastern pitcher Sam Lemm shut the door, striking out Lauren Black for the final out, and the Vikings hung on for a 3-2 victory.
Two freshmen played key roles. Meg Parker smashed a sacrifice fly to center to score Madison Tiernan with the third run in the top of the seventh.
Eastern (17-6), the fifth seed, advances to a state semifinal against the Central Jersey Group 4 winner in a game scheduled for Tuesday.
Shawnee, the third seed, finished the season with a 21-6 record.
"I couldn't be more happy," Lemm said of the championship. "This is the second time they [Eastern] have done it in history, and I'm glad that I was part of it."
Lemm, 17, wasn't even born the last time the Vikings won a sectional softball title, in 1986.
Displaying nerves of steel at critical times in the game, Lemm had a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning when Shawnee loaded the bases with two outs. With the count full on Hepner, Lemm struck her out swinging.
"My catcher calls great pitches, and I thought I could battle through it," Lemm said.
Catcher Gen Gaynor, who scored Eastern's first run on a second-inning single by Rachel Bernstein, said Lemm struck out Hepner and Black with curveballs. Bernstein scored from third on a throwing error in the same inning to make it 2-0.
"I called curves, inside fastballs and changeups," said Gaynor, a sophomore, adding that she had great confidence in Lemm, a senior whose record is 18-6.
Lemm gave up five hits, struck out 12, and walked three. She threw 117 pitches.
She has won Eastern's last six games, including an 11-3 victory over Shawnee on May 13 in an Olympic Conference battle.
"I think playing in the Olympic Conference all season gets you ready for this because every game is tough," coach Jamie McGroarty said.
Hepner said she was jammed on an inside pitch that she hit for a double in the seventh. The senior also said that her team didn't get enough hits early in the game and stranded too many runners, seven.
"Turning our season around from 8-11 last year to 21-6 is awesome, and even though it's disappointing, I think it's a huge accomplishment that we made it this far," Hepner said.
Eastern 0200001 - 364
Shawnee 0000002 - 253
WP: Sam Lemm. LP: Jackie Pezzato. 2B: S-Maureen Hepner.