The NJSIAA state softball finals are scheduled for tomorrow at Toms River, and only three South Jersey teams out of more than 40 that started the tournament are alive.
Williamstown is ready to defend its Group 4 state championship against Union High School, the North 2 winner, at 1 p.m. at Toms River East.
Gloucester City, the South Group 1 titlist, is set to play North 1 champ Saddle Brook at 1 p.m. at Toms River North.
St. Joseph, the South Non-Public Group B victor, will play Montclair Kimberley, the North Non-Public B champion, at 3 p.m. at Toms River North.
Williamstown (21-2) has won each playoff game by one run, and a different player has stepped up to lead the team to victory each time.
In a 2-1 state semifinal win over Hunterdon Central on Tuesday, Briana Molino slashed a bases-loaded single to right field with no outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to score Amanda Martinez with the winning run.
In a 6-5 South Jersey Group 4 final victory over Toms River East last Friday, the Braves were trailing by 5-3 in the bottom of the 11th when senior pitcher Katie Trotter slammed a two-out, three-run homer over the left-field fence for a dramatic come-from-behind win.
Williamstown nipped Vineland, 4-3, in a South Jersey semifinal when Jessica Martinez stroked a two-out, bases-loaded single that resulted in two RBIs and a lead that held to the end.
Trotter (20-2) has pitched consistently well in front of a reliable defense. Her ERA is 1.00 with 115 strikeouts, and she leads the team in hitting (.500), doubles (16), and RBIs (30).
Union's record is 27-4. The Farmers edged Ridgewood, 1-0, to advance to the final behind pitcher Amanda Kardys (18-4).
Tears of joy. The Gloucester players (28-1) wept after they topped New Egypt, 4-3, in 12 innings Tuesday in a state Group 1 semifinal.
The game boiled down to an RBI sacrifice fly by pitcher Taylor Chain and a laser throw by second baseman Tabby Dick to home plate to preserve the lead and the victory.
Chain has been having a phenomenal year for the Lions. The win boosted the senior's record to 19-1 with 17 shutouts. Prior to Tuesday, she had given up three runs all season.
Chain said her pitching has improved as a result of hard work and determination.
"My speed and location helps," Chain said, "and the defense always backs me up. Angela Harris, Tabatha Dick, Ashley Zaccaria, and Grace Cooney have made a difference."
The Lions last won a Group 1 state title in 2005. They also won in 2001 and 2000.
Saddle Brook's record is 30-2. The Falcons edged High Tech, 6-5, to advance to the state final behind pitcher Kim Prevedel.
Pagano cruising. St. Joseph (21-4) hasn't allowed a run in four playoff games while scoring 27. That's quite a bit of momentum to take into the final against Montclair Kimberley (18-8).
The Wildcats have a healthy Nicole Pagano in the circle, and the senior is at the top of her game. She has yielded only four runs since May 8 and appears to be as dominating as ever since resting and rehabilitating a knee that knocked her out of the lineup for a good part of the season.
Pagano (15-2) has blanked the last four teams the Wildcats have faced. In all, she has 13 shutouts, six no-hitters, and an ERA of 0.52. Her batting average is .424, the best on the team.
Records are through Tuesday.
Last week's rankings in parentheses.
1. Williamstown (1) 21-2
2. Gloucester (4) 28-1
3. St. Joseph (9) 21-4
4. Overbrook (5) 22-4
5. Delsea (10) 20-6
6. Sacred Heart (8) 25-7
7. Kingsway (2) 19-4
8. Gloucester Cath. (NR) 20-8
9. Vineland (7) 19-4
10. Cherokee (3) 19-2
- Bill Iezzi