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She's the hero of the zero

Kylie Kristovich tossed 14 shutouts among her 25 wins for Sacred Heart.

Lots of zeros fill the column that reads "opponent score" on the final Sacred Heart softball schedule.

Sixteen, to be exact. Fourteen were put there by pitcher Kylie Kristovich during a remarkable season in which the senior won 25 games and lost three.

Twenty-five is a big number for a pitcher, even if the schedule has some soft spots. But whose calendar didn't?

The team went 28-3, as Clarissa Hayes pitched in with three wins, but most of the victories went to Kristovich, arguably the best pitcher in South Jersey this season.

Kristovich is The Inquirer's softball player of the year in South Jersey.

"Without her, we are nowhere near the wins we had with her," said Sacred Heart coach Les Olsen, who has coached the sport for the last 10 years. "She is certainly the best [pitcher] I've had by far."

The 18-year-old Bridgeton resident ended her scholastic career by setting three school records. Her 58 wins broke the career mark of 47 set by Amanda Reigel in 2004. Reigel also owned the season record for victories with 23 until Kristovich passed it.

Kristovich also recorded 601 strikeouts to shatter Trish Birmingham's career record of 491 set in 2000.

"[Breaking] those three records was a goal I had in my mind since sophomore year," said Kristovich, who has pitched competitively since seventh grade. "It's exciting because it's something I can look back on and remember that I made my mark on the school."

The honors student also left her mark on those with whom she played. Shortstop Arielle Bruno, one of four seniors who backed up the pitcher in the field for the last four years, expressed an appreciation for Kristovich's talent and personality.

"She carried us with her pitching throughout the playoffs and the regular season," Bruno said. "If things were not going her way, she didn't show it. If there were errors in the field, she didn't get down; she'd pick you up so you could shake it off."

There were errors in the Lions' game against Gloucester Catholic in the South Jersey Non-Public B final June 1. They made enough mistakes in the second inning to watch a 2-1 lead turn into a 7-2 deficit and lose, 13-2.

That day had been full of distractions. The team attended a Mass that finished at 11:30 a.m., hopped onto a bus at school for a one-hour ride to Sterling, and after the game, returned immediately to Sacred Heart for a graduation ceremony.

"In the second inning, [the Rams] were hitting and we were making errors," Kristovich said. "Our heads didn't seem to be in the game."

Now, her head turns toward Temple, whose coach, Joe DiPietro, is looking forward to her pitching for the Owls.

"I like her presence on the mound," DiPietro said. "She's a competitor. She's also a good student, so I won't have to worry about that."

DiPietro guided Camden Catholic to three state titles between 1990 and 1992.

"I always wanted to go there," Kristovich said about Temple, which she will attend on a softball scholarship. "It's close, I like how it's in the city, and the team's a good match for me."

Kristovich plans to be a special-education gym teacher, which conforms to her family's passion. Susan Kristovich, her mother, is a nurse who works with special-needs children. Kourtney Kristovich, her sister, studies special education at Rowan.