Gloucester Catholic coach Tom Sullivan was asked in March if he felt pressure to have the Rams repeat as NJSIAA Non-Public B state softball champion in his first year at the helm.
Sullivan, a Gloucester Catholic alum, denied feeling pressure to win, but acknowledged that the Rams had a target on their backs as state champs.
Gloucester Catholic's Annie Robinson talked about pressure from the prospective of a freshman on a title team after she drilled a two-run single that beat Sacred Heart, 5-3, in the sectional final Tuesday.
That hit advanced the Rams to the Non-Public B state championship game against Morris Catholic. The final is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Toms River North.
"You always feel pressure," said Robinson, a first baseman. "But whatever we do, we always come through."
The Rams (20-4) have come through 15 times since their last loss on April 30, a 3-0 defeat against Vineland in the Hammonton Tournament.
Morris Catholic (13-10) has won its last three games, in the playoffs. Seeded fifth in North B, the Crusaders beat St. Mary's of Rutherford, 8-0; Lodi Immaculate, 2-1; and Newark Academy, 10-6.
Lodi was the team that Gloucester Catholic defeated, 11-1, for the state crown last year. This year, the Rams drew a first-round bye as the fifth seed in South B, then beat Holy Cross, 4-2; Wardlaw-Hartridge, 13-1; and Sacred Heart, 5-3.
Morris Catholic has a couple of freshmen who can hit. Jeannie Kivlon, a third baseman, blasted a two-run homer and Kelly Malkinski, a leftfielder, smashed a three-run triple that helped the Crusaders win their first sectional crown since 1992.
The Rams have four seniors around whom Sullivan molded his younger players. One of those upperclassmen, Olivia Lawrence, summed up the team's perspective entering the biggest game of the year.
"This team has confidence," Lawrence said after she hit a key home run - she has five homers this season - against Sacred Heart on Tuesday. "We have it from last year. We know what to expect, and that will help us a lot at states."
What has helped to put the team on a winning streak is what Sullivan did with the batting order and the defense. He moved Carly Todd, the No. 2 hitter, to No. 5, behind Lawrence, because the opposition was pitching around her.
Todd is batting .477 and leads the team in steals with 18.
Sullivan shifted the No. 5 hitter, Brianna Roderiguez, to No. 2, where she is more comfortable and is hitting with power.
The first-year coach also moved Shayla Giosia and Todd back to their natural positions, center field and shortstop, respectively.
"Records don't mean anything now," Sullivan said.
The question is, which team will feel the pressure more?