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Gloucester Cath. repeats as state champ

TOMS RIVER, N.J. - Brianna Roderiguez and her Gloucester Catholic softball teammates made it look easy Saturday at Toms River North.

TOMS RIVER, N.J. - Brianna Roderiguez and her Gloucester Catholic softball teammates made it look easy Saturday at Toms River North.

In the biggest game of the year, the Rams were loose and relaxed before and during the NJSIAA Non-Public B state final against Morris Catholic.

They were also patient enough to let the game come to them, and it did in the fourth inning, when Gloucester Catholic struck for four runs.

The Rams, under pressure all season to defend their state title with a new coach and five young players in the lineup, retained that crown with a 4-0 victory over Morris Catholic.

Gloucester Catholic (21-4) ended the season with a flourish, winning its last 16 games. Morris Catholic, which won its first sectional title to get to the championship game, finished 13-11.

"I've been starting since my freshman year, and this win feels great," said Roderiguez, who started the fourth-inning uprising with a triple to right field. "We always need that starter [hit], and that's the key to the game.

"I had no doubt that we would do it."

The Rams did it with good defense, timely hitting, and solid pitching by sophomore Abby Merryman. She allowed three hits, struck out five, and walked one in throwing only 80 pitches.

Fellow senior Shayla Giosia singled home Roderiguez, and senior Olivia Lawrence doubled in Giosia for a 2-0 lead.

Two infield errors enabled Lawrence and Carly Todd to score the next two runs.

"We always say that hitting is contagious," Lawrence said. "When Brianna got in, then Shayla and me, we call it the GC connection because we [the seniors] play travel ball together.

"This was a defensive game. We always have a good defense."

Roderiguez made up for an error she committed in the fifth inning, when Morris Catholic loaded the bases, by catching a laser shot at third base to end the game.

The fifth belonged to Morris Catholic, when Jeannie Kivlon got one of three singles given up by Merryman, after Kelly Malkinski had walked and fellow freshman Kendall Gregory had reached on Roderiguez's error.

However, Merryman struck out the next two batters to get out of the inning.

"She was absolutely confident today," Gloucester Catholic coach Tom Sullivan said of his starter, who threw her sixth shutout of the season.

Sullivan earlier had attributed Merryman's successful season to Kiersten Hughes, one of his assistant coaches, a former pitcher for Audubon and Arcadia University.

"Morris Catholic was swinging at a lot of first pitches, and our defense was great," he said. "In that fourth inning, I thought Abby would hold them in check."

Morris Catholic   0000000 - 032

Gloucester Catholic   000400x - 441

WP: Abby Merryman. LP: Jean Drury. 2B: GC-Olivia Lawrence. 3B: GC-Brianna Roderiguez.