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Phil Anastasia: Williamstown wins a little differently

TOMS RIVER, N.J. - As part of the regular rotation, the NJSIAA changed the site of the softball Group 4 state championship game this season.

TOMS RIVER, N.J. - As part of the regular rotation, the NJSIAA changed the site of the softball Group 4 state championship game this season.

That was fitting, since Williamstown took a different path to the same place.

Last season, the Braves followed the dominating pitching of Rachael Matreale to the first state championship in the history of the program. The shorthand was stunning: five games, five shutouts.

This season, the Braves relied on clutch hitting, airtight defense, and a flair for the dramatic. They won their second straight title with a 3-0 victory over Union yesterday at Toms River East.

Williamstown coach Fred Powell had called last year's championship run "a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Yesterday, a celebration-soaked Powell stood in the sun and wondered how someone can have two of those.

"Those words are haunting me a little bit," Powell said. "But these girls had something to prove. They wanted to make a statement."

What the Braves did over the last two seasons was remarkable. They went 48-3 against some of the best competition in the state. They became the first South Jersey team to win back-to-back state titles since Gloucester in 2000-01, and the only South Jersey team to capture consecutive crowns in either Group 4 or Group 3.

But the real trick was the way Williamstown won in different ways. Matreale was the story last year, although the Braves backed her with solid defense and timely hitting. This year's team found other ways to win.

"That's all we heard last year was that the only reason we won was because of Rachael," said junior shortstop Briana Molino, who broke a scoreless tie with an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth. "The boys from the baseball team were all saying that. We wanted to show that wasn't true."

Nearly every team that puts together a terrific season in softball relies on a dominating pitcher. It's the nature of the sport.

By her own admission, Williamstown senior Katie Trotter is not a dominating pitcher. She was lights-out yesterday, throwing a one-hitter and retiring the final 14 batters in order. But she's a control pitcher who changes speeds and location and depends heavily on her defense.

That's a fine formula for winning one game. Or two. Or a division title.

But to make that work over the long course of the season, all the way to another state title, is a testament to the Braves' ability to play solid softball in pressure situations.

"That was a motivating factor for us," Trotter said. "It was great to have Rachael on the mound. But we wanted to prove that we could do it this year."

It wasn't easy. Last year, Williamstown won every tournament game by at least two runs. This year, the Braves won three tournament games by a run, including a 6-5 victory over Toms River East in the South Jersey final on Trotter's two-out, two-strike, three-run home run in the bottom of the 11th.

"It doesn't get any more dramatic than that," Powell said.

Yesterday was more of the same. It was an 0-0 game after five innings, but the Braves used a walk, a bunt single, some aggressive baserunning, and RBI hits by Molino and junior second baseman Justine Mattia to score three runs in the bottom of the sixth.

That was more than enough for Trotter, who fielded her position flawlessly and made the final out of the game by knocking down a hard grounder and firing to first.

That popped the cork on another celebration, and the Braves were back in a familiar place - pouring water on top of each other and their coach in the hot sun in Toms River.

It was a different field at a different high school. But one thing was the same: Once again, the big moments brought out the best in a special softball team.