By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
VINELAND — Covid-19. Hurricane Isaias. The world tried to throw everything it had at the Vineland softball program’s “Last Out Tournament” the past two weeks, but organizer Bob Dickenson was determined to see it through — not only for twin daughters Brooke and Bailey, juniors at Vineland High — but for the area seniors who saw their final season of high school softball wiped away.
And it was only fitting that the championship game came down to host Vineland locked in a pressure-packed, extra-innings battle with South Jersey Group 4 rival Egg Harbor Township — a team the Fighting Clan eliminated from the state playoffs a year ago. The Eagles got a measure of revenge this time around, however, as freshman Madison Biddle blasted a one-out, two-run walk-off double to the fence in right field, as EHT rallied for a 4-3 victory in the bottom of the eighth inning to win the title at Fiocchi Field.
“It was kind of breathtaking and such a happy moment,” said EHT senior outfielder Peyton McGowan, who scored the game-tying run as the runner on second base when the eighth inning started using international tiebreaker rules. “I couldn’t have had it any other way. I was just thinking that I was excited to play, so I’m going to go out there to win and give it all I have. I’m just happy we were able to finish it out on top.”
The game — like the three times these teams met in the spring of 2019 — featured a tough pitching battle between Vineland senior Nicole Ortega and EHT junior Haley Korsak. The two battled three times last year, with Vineland winning 2-0 and 5-0 during the regular season, and 7-1 in the opening round of the South Jersey Group 4 playoffs. Ortega was staked to an early 2-0 lead as fellow senior Zoe Frisko blasted a two-run homer to left in the top of the first, but EHT answered in the third, as McGowan laced a one-out single, stole second and then scored to ignite a two-run rally that tied the game. From there, Ortega and Korsak continued to mow down the opposition until the eighth.
Vineland, the visiting team, struck in the top of the eighth as Chasity Cross bunted tiebreaker runner Nilah Rivera to third, and Rivera came home on an RBI groundout by Arianna Torres to give the Fighting Clan a 3-2 lead. But Korsak was able to avoid further damage, setting up Biddle’s heroics in the bottom of the inning.
With McGowan running at second, an infield out moved her to third and Kayla Dollard legged out an infield single to put runners at the corners with one out. Ortega had two strikes on Biddle, but Biddle ripped a high, outside pitch over Cross’ head in right field to chase home both McGowan and Dollard with the tying and winning runs.
“I’ve never been so excited and ready to just hug all my teammates. That was such a great feeling,” Bork said. “It’s just a great opportunity. This was such an amazing opportunity for everyone, and this is a really special group of girls and I’m really lucky I got to share my last year with them. I’m so thankful that they got something together for us and were able to make this happen.”
“It was really special to come back out and play, especially after everything that’s been happening,” added EHT senior Jess Sarni. “I was really happy to come out here. The last four years we’ve played Vineland, it was always a battle to see who would win each year. Beating them in our last game was really something special, and I’m happy we could do it.”
McGowan, who scored the winning run for the Eagles four years ago when they won the state championship, said she couldn’t think of a better way to end her career before she heads off to play at Georgian Court College in Lakewood.
“This really is a cherry on top of everything,” she said. “It’s sad, though, because I’m going to miss these girls, they are like family. They weren’t just my teammates, they’ve been my family the past four years and they always will be.”
How they got there: EHT defeated Oakcrest, 10-0, to advance into the championship game. Vineland, coming out of the losers bracket, beat Cedar Creek, 6-3, earlier in the day then beat Oakcrest 8-3 to earn a berth in the one-game final. The tournament, which began last week, was double elimination until the championship game.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays