By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — In the second inning of Egg Harbor Township’s game against visiting Paul VI, sophomore left fielder Sofia Spatocco raced around third looking to score on an overthrow to first. Her feet got tangled up with head coach Kristi Troster and Spatocco went down in a heap. She recovered quickly and still scored, giving EHT an early 2-0 lead.
“I don’t even know what happened but (my teammates) were like, ‘get up! Get up!’” she said.
That’s about all that went wrong for EHT in the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week on Tuesday afternoon.
Spatocco — referred to as “Taco” by her teammates — was an offensive juggernaut, going 2-for-3 with a home run, double, four RBIs and two runs scored to lead Egg Harbor to a dominating 11-1 win over Paul VI, perhaps EHT’s toughest challenge of the season so far.
EHT remained unbeaten at 6-0 as the Eagles pounded out 10 hits, including a home run by Sienna Walterson that ended the game in the bottom of the fifth via the 10-run rule.
Egg Harbor (6-0, 2-0 Cape-Atlantic League American) jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on an RBI single by shortstop Madison Biddle, then put two more runs on the bottom of the second to extend the lead to 3-0. The big blow came in the third when Payton Colbert reached on an infield single, Kaci Velardi doubled over the left fielder’s head, and Spatocco followed with a three-run home run to give EHT a commanding 6-0 lead.
“She pitched me outside my first at-bat so I knew she was probably going to change it up,” Spatocco said. “She threw inside and low, and that’s my favorite pitch to hit, so it worked out.”
Egg Harbor Township began pouring it on during the bottom of the fourth inning, as consecutive walks to Natalia Stewart and Walterson led to both scoring on an RBI double to left by Colbert and an infield error. Later in the inning, courtesy runner Mary Del Re scored on the front end of a double steal to push the lead to 9-0, and then Spatocco picked up her fourth RBI on a groundout to third.
Paul VI (7-3, 2-1 Olympic National) got on the board in the fifth on an RBI single by Gianna Maiore, but the offense managed little more off EHT starter Madison Dollard, one of the state’s best pitchers. She allowed just four hits and a walk while striking out three. Performances like this one, when she wasn’t feeling her best, make Troster believe the Eagles can lean on Dollard once again throughout the state playoffs. Last year, EHT won the Cape-Atlantic League and South Jersey Group 4 tournaments before falling 2-1 to Watchung Hills in nine innings in the state championship game. They finished 25-2, and in the last three years the Eagles are 50-7.
“I had high expectations (coming into the season). They’re calling this a redemption year and we definitely want to be back where we were last year, but come out on the other side of it,” Troster said. “When you have an ace like Madison Dollard — and her allergies were killing her today — but when you have a kid like that on the mound, as long as you can hit a little bit it gives you pretty good odds. I like those odds on any given day.
“We tell them to focus game-by-game, but obviously the expectations and the team goals for the year — they’ve made it very clear that we’re going all the way or we’re not going at all. That’s the goal.”
“We’ve just been trying to work to get back to the state championship, that’s our No. 1 goal is to work toward that every game,” Spatocco added.
Biddle said she and her squad aren’t feeling any pressure to make a return trip to the state title game. But make no mistake, that’s what this year’s team is laser-focused on.
“We don’t feel the pressure, we’re actually very excited to see if we can get back to the top and prove that we can win a state championship,” she said. “I’ve been waiting so long to get back for this season after the last inning of that game. I still have nightmares of that last inning, but I’m hoping to come back this year and have a whole different change of score (in a state championship game).”
Troster said it was important for her team to get off to a good start against Paul VI, a team that came in sporting a 7-2 record and is one of the top teams in the Olympic Conference.
“They want to come out strong and get going. That’s one of the things they’ve been working on this year, because I thought last year we came out of the gate a little bit slowly at times, especially against teams we shouldn’t do that against,” Troster said. “I was like, let’s not wait until the third or fourth inning to score, this year let’s be a little bit more aggressive, but at the same time be selective. I thought last year at times we helped other teams out too much. This was the first game where we really got challenged defensively, they put the ball in play a lot, and I was very happy with the way they handled it.”
What’s Next: EHT travels to Cedar Creek on Friday, time TBA. Paul VI travels to Camden Tech today at 4 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays