By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
VINELAND — For two long years, Delaney Sullivan dreamed about what it might be like to hit a home run and round the bases with that Egg Harbor Township varsity softball jersey on, her No. 33 emblazoned on the back. Hundreds of nights with nothing to do but fantasize about pounding a pitch deep over the outfield fence, and the thrill that comes along with that.
On Monday, Sullivan turned those dreams into reality, smashing two home runs — including a grand slam in her second varsity at-bat — and finishing with seven RBIs to lead visiting EHT to a dominating 19-1 victory over Vineland in the 2021 season opener for both teams. Sullivan, a senior first baseman who is committed to Division III William Patterson University, played in just one preseason scrimmage as a sophomore two years ago before a concussion sidelined her for the entire season; her junior season was wiped out due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It took more than 700 days for her to make her varsity debut, and she certainly made it a memorable one.
“I played in one scrimmage (sophomore year) before I got hurt, and last year got taken away from us. First game, start of the season, I just wanted to do my best,” she said.
Egg Harbor Township (1-0, 0-0 Cape-Atlantic League American) loaded the bases in the top of the first inning but failed to score, but in the second the floodgates opened as the Eagles sent 12 batters to the plate and racked up seven runs on four hits, four walks and a hit batsman. Sophomore Natalie Stewart got things started with a two-run single to center, scoring Ryley Martini and starting pitcher Haley Korsak, and two batters later Sullivan delivered the big blow when she drilled a 3-and-2 fastball over the right-field wall for a grand slam, and a 6-0 EHT lead. Martini, who batted twice in the inning, laced an RBI single to push the lead to 7-0.
“She had a heck of a day. She has great power and uses every part of her body. I knew that’s what she was capable of because when we take infield/outfield, when Delaney comes up they back up. We know (about her power) but I don’t think anybody else does. She would have been on varsity as a sophomore but she was hurt,” said Eagles coach Kristi Troster, who got her first varsity win after taking over for longtime coach Mary Dunlap last year. “I knew coming in we had good bats and that’s what we are capable of. I was a little nervous in the first inning when we got all those people on and we didn’t get anybody in, but we took care of business after that. They adjusted well to each of the pitchers they saw and I was happy with their selection in the box. I think that’s why we hit well.”
“When she hit that grand slam, I was so happy for her,” Korsak said of Sullivan. “It’s her first varsity game, basically. I was so excited. That kind of started us off.”
Korsak was just as impressive, as she struck out five of the first six hitters she faced and allowed just one hit and one run over five innings, as the game was halted after the fifth due to the 10-run rule.
“I was really excited. Vineland always has a good program, we saw them in the summer tournament last year and I was just trying to focus on not pitching it right down the middle, hitting my corners — what I do best. That have good hitters on that team so I was just trying to not pitch it down the middle,” said Korsak, who was EHT’s ace two years ago as a sophomore. “I’m just so excited. Even in the practices and scrimmages, I’m just so excited to be here for my senior year. Even during practices I can tell that we really gel together. We’re all really close, and that helps.”
EHT built an 11- lead in the top of the fourth before Sullivan smashed her second homer of the game, a three-run shot to dept left-center field. But it was that grand slam that left her smiling from ear-to-ear after the game.
“I knew it was going to be outside, she was throwing me outside the entire time, so I was like, ‘I just have to take it that way.’ It felt amazing. It’s good to be back. I was so excited for last season, and then Covid,” she said. “I was hoping, and then when I saw it would go further I thought, ‘OK, I’ve got this.'”
Seven RBIs from just one player was plenty for a pitcher like Korsak, one of South Jersey’s best who helped lead EHT to the championship in last summer’s “Last Out” tournament, hosted by Vineland.
“She has an older sister and they’re both warriors on the mound. The kid is a gamer,” Troster said of Korsak, a Georgian Court University commit. “Every day she’s going to come to work, she’s super crafty, she hits her spots — she’s phenomenal. She’s one of the best kids I’ve had the opportunity to coach. She really keeps people off balanced, she moves the ball in and out, up and down, she really keeps the hitters on their toes in the box.”
Troster said she does feel a bit of pressure taking over for Dunlap, a coach who won a state championship and helped build EHT into one of South Jersey’s big-time Group 4 power programs.
“We’re entirely different individuals, so our coaching styles are different, but overall the expectations are the same. I think everybody expects me to win as the coach here, and the girls to win, and I don’t think those expectations have changed. Do I feel the pressure? Yes, but it’s on me making sure the girls are comfortable doing what they do so we can get the job done overall,” she said. “I’m looking forward to (this season). But we have a tough week ahead, we have Washington Township tomorrow and Kingsway on Saturday. The goal is to go 5-0 this week but we have tough teams. We’ll see how it goes.”
Like every coach, everywhere, Troster keeps telling her team to enjoy every single day, every practice, because in these uncertain times a program can be shut down at any time due to Covid-19.
“We were really talented last year as well, so I’m really happy to have them out on the field. Every day we count it as a gift when we’re here and playing,” Troster said. “I told them this is the first of many (wins) and we intend to go far this year.”
What’s next: EHT travels to Washington Township on Tuesday at 4 p.m. Vineland travels to Buena Regional on Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays