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Marc Narducci: St. Joe prevails in battle of rivals

The Wildcats advanced as Nicole Pagano outdueled Allie Weiser of Wildwood Catholic.

They are two of the top pitchers in South Jersey, Division I recruits, and both know what it's like to be on the worst place on the field - the sideline.

For Wildwood Catholic's Allie Weiser, the stay was extended when she missed her junior season while recovering from a knee injury.

St. Joseph's Nicole Pagano had a bothersome leg injury that caused her to miss time this year.

Both were back yesterday, and they showed what it's like when two healthy, talented pitchers square off in the most pressurized of playoff settings.

Pagano and St. Joseph defeated Wildwood Catholic, 2-0, in a South Jersey Non-Public B semifinal. The Wildcats will meet the winner of today's Holy Cross-Sacred Heart semifinal game in Tuesday's sectional final at Wall High School.

The two runs that Weiser surrendered were unearned. She allowed just four hits, striking out eight and walking one. Headed to the University of Albany, Weiser gave everything she had. Although she was disappointed at being eliminated, she appreciated the experience, enjoying the moment.

"Our team did really well, and this has been a lot of fun this year," she said.

That is a contrast to last year, when she had to watch in frustration while rehabilitating the knee.

"You don't realize how good it was to be back," she said.

Even if it meant having to face Pagano.

The senior righthander, who is headed to Mount St. Mary's, still has to ice her left leg after games. She is 13-2 this year for the 19-4 Wildcats, and yesterday's effort was another in a long line of vintage performances.

Pagano threw a no-hitter, striking out 12, and seems to be regaining the zip in her fastball. She struck out the first 11 batters and admitted to tiring slightly in the final two innings, but still had enough to keep the Crusaders out of the hit column, although Wildwood Catholic reached base on two errors.

"This was awesome," Pagano said, more about the win than the no-hitter.

Throwing a no-hitter isn't new, but winning her final game on her home field was.

St. Joseph will play on neutral fields the rest of the way.

"In a way, you feel upset knowing that this is your final home game, because there have been so many great memories," Pagano said. "But right now, I'm just thinking of the next game."

She is certainly happy there is a next game, something that wasn't guaranteed when her leg was throbbing earlier this season.

"It was killing me not to play," said Pagano, whose first-inning RBI single was all the support she would need.

The rivalry between Weiser and Pagano is friendly but competitive. On May 19, the two faced each other, and St. Joseph squeezed out a 1-0 win. In addition to being Cape-Atlantic League opponents, the two often have met in the summer circuit.

"We know each other really well," Pagano said.

Each showed admiration for the other, but neither got caught up in the individual matchup.

"All I was focusing on was trying to hold them down," Weiser said.

Each brought out the best in the other.

Most of all, after both spent time on the sidelines, Weiser and Pagano appreciated the chance to compete - almost as much as the big crowd at St. Joseph enjoyed watching these two masters apply their craft.