Steinert freshman Bella Truelove crushed a three-run homer to left-center field in the TOC Semi finals. File Photo by Michael A. Sabo
By Rich Fisher
June 6: This wasn’t supposed to happen.
Really. It wasn’t.
Just five days ago, St. John Vianney’s softball team was 27-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state. It was 55-1 over the past two years up to that point.
Steinert had its nice little run, but now it was time to let the big girls play.
Uh, hold that thought.
The amazing Spartans continued to defy all odds tonight, as freshman Bella Truelove blasted a three-run homer in the top of the first and Kaylee Whittaker made it stand up as 4th-seeded Steinert upset top-seeded SJV, 3-2, in an NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinal tonight at Ivy Hill Park on the campus of Seton Hall University.
“Playing the number one seed in this tournament and scoring three runs in the first inning was unbelievable,” Truelove said. “I’m so happy that we ended with a win and I’m so excited to move on to the finals.
“Making it this far is absolutely crazy. Being a freshman and winning the sectional, and the state championship game is absolutely insane. We made it this far and we are gonna go all out for a win.”
The Spartans (25-5) will go for the ultimate prize at 7:30 p.m. Friday when they play third-seeded Lodi Immaculate Conception, a 12-2 winner over Robbinsville in the first game.
Don’t let that blowout score be of much concern.
At this point, Steinert is capable of anything.
St. John Vianney entered the game on a down note, having lost to a Donovan Catholic, 13-4, in the Shore Conference Tournament Monday night. Pitcher Julia Parker allowed seven runs and was removed after just 2/3rds of an inning, and her first-inning woes carried over into tonight.
What’s incredible, is Steinert got the exact amount of runs it needed after just three batters went to the plate. Dara Kelly led off the game with a walk and Carli Backlund beat out an infield single.
That brought Truelove to the plate, and after taking a strike, she blasted one over the centerfield fence for a 3-0 Steinert lead.
Before hearing from Bella about her approach at the plate, let’s flashback to Donovan Catholic coach Debbie Schwartz discussing the adjustments her team made against Parker in the SCT final after being shut out by her in the South Jersey Non-Public A final.
“We absolutely adjusted,” Schwartz told The Trenton Monitor. “We were prepared for that inside pitch and when we took that away from her, we had her.”
Hmmm. Makes one wonder if Schwartz and Truelove met for lunch and discussed strategy.
“I noticed when I had my first strike on me, it was inside,” Truelove said. “I backed off the plate so it wouldn’t be so inside anymore.
“I was very excited to see that the ball was going to center field. In yesterday’s game, I hit it to right field and if I hit it to center it would have went out. I knew I needed to straighten my bat out and get it where I wanted it to go.”
The bedlam was short lived, however, as St. John Vianney came back with two runs in the bottom of the second.
But if we’ve learned anything about Whittaker during this season, it’s that if teams don’t knock her out early, they don’t knock her out at all.
The Salad Princess went to work from that point. The Lancers put runners on second and third with two outs in the fourth before Whittaker got a strikeout. SJV put a runner on second in the sixth, only to be thwarted again by the junior.
Whittaker allowed four hits and two walks while striking out seven. Steinert was actually out-hit, 4-3, but when one of those hits is a three-run bomb by a ninth-grader, stats don’t mean much.
“That home run was such an experience to have, especially as a freshman,” Truelove said. “I knew that being a freshman and getting put into the lineup tonight was a big deal, especially for me. I knew that no matter where I was put, I needed to work hard to earn my spot.”
She earned it all right, in a massive way.
And as Steinert prepares for Lodi, it can take solace in this little nugget.
St. John Vianney is an outstanding program, year after year. It has lost to just two teams over the past two years.
Donovan Catholic twice.
And the Spartans.
Craig Hailey Contributed to this story