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Sterling takes second softball crown

TOMS RIVER, N.J. - This time there was no madcap comeback, no frantic ending, just a stellar performance by a pitcher who showed the importance of changing speeds.

TOMS RIVER, N.J. - This time there was no madcap comeback, no frantic ending, just a stellar performance by a pitcher who showed the importance of changing speeds.

After two consecutive postseason comeback wins, Sterling rode the arm of righthander Sammi Giambri to yesterday's 1-0 win over Kittatinny for the state Group 2 softball championship at Toms River East.

Sterling (27-3) claimed its second state softball championship in school history and the first since winning the Group 2 title in 1981.

For a quick review, Sterling trailed, 3-2, in the South Jersey Group 2 final against Delran before exploding for seven runs in the sixth inning of a 9-3 victory.

Sterling won Tuesday's 7-4 state Group 2 semifinal over Carteret when third baseman Lauren Easterday hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the seventh.

Yesterday, there were few anxious moments because Giambri, a senior who is headed to the College of New Jersey, continually kept Kittatinny (20-7) off balance.

Giambri proved that a pitcher doesn't have to blow people away with fastballs. Though her fastball isn't exactly slow, it also isn't overpowering - until it's mixed in with a killer change-up.

"The change was really working for me," said Giambri, who allowed just three hits while striking out seven and walking three.

Giambri encountered one jam and got out of it by changing speeds. Kittatinny got a bunt single and a slap base hit with one out, putting runners on first and second in the sixth inning.

The Sterling pitcher got No. 3 batter Sara Stocklinski to fly out to right field and ended the inning by inducing a grounder to second on a change-up to cleanup hitter Franny Gely.

"That change-up keeps hitters off guard, and she [Giambri] was great today," said Sterling coach Kelly Tallant, a former pitching standout at Eastern.

Giambri had to be on her game, because her counterpart, senior righthander Kelsey Roberts, was not much fun for the Silver Knights to face.

Roberts was touched for an unearned run in the third inning.

Centerfielder Stephanie Hulme got things started for Sterling with a one-out single. A walk to catcher Megan Applegate was followed by a strikeout.

Sterling rightfielder Stephanie Mastropaolo then reached base on an error, scoring Hulme.

"I just didn't stop running, and to score in such a big game is an unbelievable feeling," Hulme said.

Like Giambri, Roberts struck out seven and walked three. Sterling left a favorable impression on the Kittatinny righthander.

"They were a solid team and did well in all phases - pitching, defense and hitting," Roberts said.

Sterling's prom was Friday, but any fears about its having an adverse effect were answered. After the prom, nine of the players went to Giambri's house for a sleepover.

There probably wasn't much sleep, but the players proved they were ready to win a championship.

"It's the perfect way for things to end," Giambri said. "I wouldn't want to go out any other way."

Kittatinny 000 000 0 - 0 3 2

Sterling 001 000 x - 1 4 0

WP: Sammi Giambri (14-2). LP: Kelsey Roberts (12-5).