There's no such thing as a Tri-County Conference softball tournament.
But the state tournament is a pretty good approximation.
"If you make it through our conference, you've got a chance to go pretty far," Gloucester coach Dave Light said.
For the second straight year, Tri-County Conference teams have dominated postseason play in South Jersey.
Gloucester in Group 1, Delsea in Group 3, and Williamstown in Group 4 won South Jersey titles last weekend and will compete in the state semifinals this afternoon.
Gloucester Catholic will play for a South Jersey title this afternoon in Non-Public A.
Last year, Pennsville in Group 1, Kingsway in Group 3, and Williamstown won state titles out of the Tri-County Conference.
"We face such tough competition in our conference that when we go out of our conference, we feel like we're prepared," said Delsea coach Scott Gutelius, whose team won its first sectional title since 1987 with a 6-0 win over Central Regional on Saturday.
The emergence of Delsea as well as the Gloucester Institute of Technology has underscored the depth of the Tri-County Conference.
GCIT reached the Group 1 sectional final last year and the Group 2 sectional final this season. The Cheetahs lost, 1-0, to Overbrook in Friday's South Jersey championship game.
Meanwhile, Delsea beat Hammonton, Cumberland (another Tri-County team), and Central Regional to capture the program's first South Jersey title since 1987.
"They've really turned it around, and I have no doubt it's because of the caliber of competition they see every day in the Tri-County," Gloucester's Light said of the Crusaders.
Gloucester, Williamstown, and Delsea are unbeaten outside the conference.
Gloucester is 27-1, and its only loss was to Gloucester Catholic. Williamstown is 22-2, and its losses were to Gloucester and Kingsway. Delsea is 19-6, and all six defeats were against Tri-County opponents.
Gloucester Catholic is 20-8 and fresh off a stunning 2-1 victory over Red Bank Catholic, the state's top-ranked team, in the sectional semifinals. Six of the losses were to Tri-County opponents.
"It's the pitching," said Gloucester Catholic coach Joe Matranga, noting the mound work in 2008 by Williamstown's Rachael Matreale and Kingsway's Jamie Minix, and this season by Gloucester's Taylor Chain, Kingsway's Dominique Ficara, GCIT's Krysti Maronski, Williamstown's Katie Trotter, and the Rams' Nicole Hagerty.
"The pitchers from Williamstown, Kingsway, Gloucester, and GCIT prepared us for the state tournament," Matranga said
Light said the day-to-day challenges paid off for Tri-County teams in late May and early June.
"Those tough games get you ready for the kind of games you're going to see in the tournament," Light said.
The only softball team not from the Tri-County to win a South Jersey public-school title this season was Overbrook.
Overbrook is in its first year in the Colonial Conference. Before that, the Rams were in the Tri-County.
Here is a look at today's matchups in the NJSIAA state softball playoff tournament:
GROUP 4 STATE SEMIFINALS: Williamstown (22-2) vs. Hunterdon Central (28-2) at Northern Burlington, 4 p.m. Williamstown is the defending state champion. The Braves are led by senior pitcher Katie Trotter, who hit a walk-off, three-run home run in the bottom of the 11th in a 6-5 win over Toms River East in the South Jersey finals. Hunterdon Central is led by pitcher Courtney Yard, who has a 27-2 record.
GROUP 3 STATE SEMIFINALS: Delsea (19-6) vs. Middletown South (25-3) at New Egypt, 4 p.m. Delsea, which won its first sectional title since 1987, is led by pitcher Allison Pfrommer, who has a 1.02 ERA with 86 strikeouts. Pfrommer pitched a four-hitter in a 6-0 win over Central in the sectional finals. Middletown South pitcher Liza Kuhn is 19-3.
GROUP 2 STATE SEMIFINALS: Overbrook (23-3) vs. Cranford (19-3) at Rancocas Valley, 4 p.m. Overbrook is led by junior pitcher Jen Metzger, who is 13-0 with 172 strikeouts. She threw a one-hitter with 15 strikeouts in a 1-0 win over GCIT in the South Jersey finals. Cranford is led by junior pitcher Kelly Hardman (14-3).
GROUP 1 STATE SEMIFINALS: Gloucester (27-1) vs. New Egypt (20-5) at Lenape, 4 p.m. Gloucester senior pitcher Taylor Chain is 18-1 with 242 strikeouts. She has thrown 17 shutouts, seven no-hitters, and four perfect games. New Egypt sophomore pitcher Emily Bausher is 14-2 with 236 strikeouts.
NON-PUBLIC SOUTH A FINALS: Gloucester Catholic (20-8) vs. Bishop Ahr (23-2) at Allentown, 4 p.m. Gloucester Catholic stunned Red Bank Catholic, the state's No. 1 team, by a 2-1 score in Saturday's semifinals. Junior pitcher Nicole Hagerty (16-6, 0.83 ERA) leads the Rams. Bishop Ahr sophomore Jessica Gomez (10-1) threw a 10-inning shutout in a 2-0 win over Camden Catholic in the sectional semifinals.
NON-PUBLIC SOUTH B FINALS: St. Joseph (19-4) vs. Sacred Heart (25-6) at Buena, 4 p.m. These Cape-Atlantic League rivals split in the regular season. St. Joe's won, 1-0, on May 1, and Sacred Heart won the rematch, 3-2, on May 5. St. Joseph is led by senior pitcher Nicole Pagano (13-2). Junior Kylie Kristovich will take the mound for Sacred Heart.
- Phil Anastasia