The pitching matchup was compelling; the stakes, high.

Carolyn Griffin, Cherokee's senior star, took on Absegami's ace, junior Kelly Lupton, Tuesday in the opener of the single-elimination, NJSIAA South Jersey Group 4 softball tournament.

Griffin, the Chiefs' No. 1 hurler since last year, was determined to get the team off to a good start in the playoffs, in which it had stalled in the semifinals last year against Shawnee.

Lupton, in her first year as the Braves' ace, had distinguished herself as a fireballer who didn't always throw with accuracy but piled up lots of strikeouts.

The flame-thrower, who has been clocked in the mid-60-m.p.h. range, prevailed, 3-1, and Absegami advanced to Thursday's second round.

The Braves (16-6), seeded fourth, will play No. 5 Triton, a 10-0 winner Tuesday over No. 12 Toms River North. Cherokee, seeded 13th, finished 10-8.

"I worked fastballs inside and rise up and away, and they just couldn't get with it," said Lupton, who gave up two hits, struck out eight, and walked one. "Everything was moving and working good.

"I felt comfortable and confident. We really wanted this win."

Lupton is the school's leader with 237 career strikeouts.

Absegami coach Pat Esemplare said he didn't feel so lucky to draw Cherokee, a 13th seed that was much better than its seeding; however, everything worked in Absegami's favor, especially in the sixth inning.

The score was tied, 1-1, when Jocilyn Rudisill, the Braves' only starting senior, slashed a leadoff single to center field. Melissa McCann followed by reaching on an infield error. That set the table for Lupton, who smashed a single to right field, scoring Rudisill.

Dana Cafone singled in McCann before Griffin struck out Kristy Kelly to end the inning.

Absegami, though, had a 3-1 lead, and it stood.

"I knew that once we get the lead we don't want to give it up," Rudisill said. "This team really pulls together in situations like that.

"I knew Kelly was going to pitch strong in the seventh, and I was confident in our defense."

Sophomore first baseman Becca McGuire was a key part of that defense, spearing two line drives late in the game.

"Luckily today in the sixth inning, we got those runs," Esemplare said. "I knew once we got our leadoff hitter, Jocilyn Rudisill, on, she would do whatever she had to do to score."

Cherokee coach Nicole Lum summed the game up this way:

"We made a few errors, they had a few hits and pieced them together, and that's the way a team should be playing at this point.

"We haven't been getting our hits. We did not put too many balls in play that we needed to produce runs."

Cherokee senior shortstop Gina McCool didn't seem bothered by Lupton's fastballs and rise balls. The Chiefs' leadoff hitter singled to right field to start the game and scored on a sacrifice fly by Griffin to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.

Absegami knotted the score in the bottom of the first inning when McCann came home on an infield error.

Cherokee 100 000 0 - 1 2 2

Absegami 100 002 x - 3 6 0

WP: Kelly Lupton. LP: Carolyn Griffin. 2B: A-Dana Cafone.