It took a freshman to show them the way.
Annie Robinson, one of the newest additions to the Gloucester Catholic softball team, led the Rams back to the Non-Public B state championship game with a swing of the bat Tuesday against Sacred Heart.
Playing at Northern Burlington for the South Jersey title, the defending state-champion Rams earned a 5-3 victory after Robinson stroked a two-run single to center field, scoring Shayla Giosia and Carly Todd with one out in the top of the seventh inning.
Gloucester Catholic (20-4) is scheduled to play Morris Catholic on Saturday in Toms River.
"I have no idea what type of pitch I hit. I just hit it," said Robinson, a first baseman who was instrumental in the Rams' scoring two runs in the first inning.
"I was relieved that I did it. You always feel pressure, but whatever we do, we always come through."
Robinson added that that type of confidence, plus talks with her teammates and coach, Tom Sullivan, chased butterflies she had felt before stepping to the plate in the final inning.
Sacred Heart (25-5), seeded third, had sought revenge for being ousted from the playoffs by the Rams last year in the same sectional final. The young Lions were seeded higher and had a better record, and it was a close battle all the way.
The Lions tied the game, 2-2, in the second inning and took a 3-2 lead in the third before faltering in the seventh.
Tori Caterina singled home Clarissa Hayes, and Jocelyn Cintron hit a ground ball that scored Lindsay Dwyer and tied the score, 2-2.
"She [Caterina] hit a screwball that didn't spin," Rams pitcher Abby Merryman said. "I just wanted to get out of the inning, and I did."
Sacred Heart took a 3-2 lead when Rachel Gavigan blasted a home run to center field in the third.
"It definitely picked up the team," Gavigan said of her shot. "We looked to carry it through the game, but we came up short."
One reason was Gloucester Catholic's Olivia Lawrence. The senior smashed a homer over the right-field fence to tie the score, 3-3, in the fifth.
"I just wanted a base hit to start the inning," Lawrence said. "I was ecstatic when it went over the fence.
"This team has confidence. We have it from last year. We know what to expect, and that will help a lot at states."
Sacred Heart has a sensational freshman of its own in Rosie LaGrotta, who pitched the Lions into the sectional final. The ninth grader, who finished her first varsity season with a 21-5 record, was a little shaky in the first inning, in which she walked two and loaded the bases twice.
Sacred Heart coach Les Olsen said LaGrotta had a case of the freshman jitters in the first inning, but settled down after that, hitting her spots and keeping the Lions off balance.
"For having 12 of 18 [players] sophomores and freshmen and win 25 games, I couldn't have asked for more this season," Olsen said.
Gloucester Catholic 200 010 2 - 5 7 0
Sacred Heart 021 000 0 - 3 7 2
WP: Abby Merryman. LP: Rosie LaGrotta. 2B: GC-Olivia Lawrence; SH-Lindsay Dwyer. HR: GC-Lawrence; SH-Rachel Gavigan.