Every softball coach is looking for that one big win before the state playoffs begin, something to give the team the confidence that it can make a run at a sectional title.
Ocean City rookie skipper Keri Tricinelli got all that and more on a soggy Friday afternoon in Hammonton, as her Red Raiders knocked the host Blue Devils from the ranks of the unbeatens with an 8-3 victory in the inaugural “Fight Like Frankie” showcase.
The baseball teams from the two schools were also going at it on the next field over at Hammonton Lake Park, with the Blue Devils scoring a 7-2 win over Ocean City. The event was organized by both schools on behalf of Frankie LaSasso, the 7-year-old son of Ocean City assistant football and baseball coach Frank LaSasso, who also is a Hammonton High School graduate.
“It was so nice to watch that. I was like, ‘finally, we put it all together.’ It was nice to watch them run on all cylinders. It was great,” said Tricinelli, who took over for longtime coach John Bruno this year after what would have been her first season in 2020 was wiped out due to the coronavirus. “There’s a little bit of history here because the last season they played (in 2019) Ocean City played Hammonton in states and beat them then in a close game. It didn’t matter to my kids that Hammonton was undefeated. They were ready to go.”
Hammonton (16-1, 12-0 Cape-Atlantic League United) jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning but Ocean City (11-7, 8-4 CAL American) came roaring back with two runs in the fourth on a homer by Alexis Illas, and in the fifth pitcher Hailey Neville blasted a home run as the Red Raiders took a 5-1 lead. Hammonton got to within 5-2 with a run in the bottom of the fifth, but the Red Raiders tacked on three more runs in the final two innings to pull away. Neville went 2-for-2 with a pair of walks, a run scored and three RBIs and also struck out seven and allowed just seven hits inside the circle. Blue Devils starter Mackenzie Edwards struck out 13 and allowed just four hits, but Ocean City took advantage of three walks and two hit batsmen.
“She pitches the majority of the games for us and she’s been great for us. She did her job today,” Tricinelli said of Neville, who helped lead Ocean City to a berth in the sectional semifinals two years ago as a sophomore. “We got runners on today. (Our hitters) did their job, they put together quality at-bats and did what they were supposed to do, put the ball in play and make things happen.”
There’s a chance these teams could see each other again in the South Jersey Group 3 championship game, as Hammonton is the No. 2 overall seed and the top seed in the bottom bracket, while Ocean City is the No. 8 seed and in the top part of the bracket with No. 1 Central Regional. First, however, Ocean City must worry about ninth-seeded Lacey Township on Tuesday in the opening round.
“There has definitely been a turnaround in this team. In the beginning of the season they would get a little intimidated by the stronger teams, but in the past few weeks we had to play EHT and St. Joe again, and the first thing my girls were saying was, ‘I want to play them again.’ They were coming at it and were ready to go,” Tricinelli said. “As a coach that’s nice to hear because that means we made a turnaround somewhere. And to come out here and win a game like this, in the way that we did — hitting well, fielding well, pitching well — seeing that happen, I just had a feeling they would play really well today and that’s a good sign going into states.