TOMS RIVER, N.J. - Before Gloucester City played Saddle Brook for the Group 1 state softball title yesterday at Toms River North, Taylor Chain was extraordinarily eager to play ball.
The Lions' star pitcher said she had been waiting four years for the opportunity to play for a state title.
The adrenaline paid off for Chain as she struck out 18 and allowed two hits in a 3-0 victory, wrapping up Gloucester's first state crown since 2005.
The Lions (29-1), ranked No. 2 in South Jersey by The Inquirer, also won state titles in 2000 and 2001.
"This was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I'm glad I got it," Chain said. "It was a little surprising [to strike out 18] because we watched them on the Internet, and they seemed pretty good."
Chain said her curveball was the pitch that caught the Falcons looking and her screwball was the pitch that had them swinging.
Saddle Brook (30-3) struck out 11 times looking, and Falcons coach Darren White said it was because Chain was so effective on the corners.
"That was a great umpire," Chain said. "He gave me every corner, inside and out."
Saddle Brook's Kim Prevedel struck out Gloucester's first three batters in the first inning, but in the second, senior Jill Stafford lined a one-out double to center field, and sophomore Brittney Dolson doubled her home for a 1-0 lead.
"It was definitely important to get on top first," Stafford said. "It gave the team a big boost, and we knew we would hit from there.
"It feels so good to get this win. We were so close the last two years and finally got it."
The Falcons helped Gloucester in the bottom of the fifth inning when an error at shortstop allowed sophomore Teresa Anderson to get to first. She stole second, junior Grace Coney followed with an RBI single, and Chain doubled her in for a 3-0 lead.
Anderson slammed a two-out double in the sixth, but Prevedel (27-3) struck out junior Courtney Dolson for her 1,000th career strikeout, which made her only the second pitcher in Bergen County to reach that plateau.
In all, the Lions stroked six hits, four of which were doubles.
Saddle Brook, which had outscored opponents by 261-23 before meeting Gloucester, did not get closer to scoring than second base. And that was in the first inning when Chain walked Tricia Kirwan and she advanced to second on a hit batter.
"We replaced five players from last year," Gloucester coach Dave Light said. ". . . For these young girls to step up and play the way they did, they are the real backbone of the team.
"Chain's final record was 20-1. She ended with 18 shutouts, seven no-hitters, four perfect games, and what can you say more than that?"
Saddle Brook 000 000 0 - 0 2 3
Gloucester 010 020 0 - 3 6 1
WP: Taylor Chain. LP: Kim Prevedel.
2B: G- Jill Stafford, Brittney Dolson, Chain, Teresa Anderson.