By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
HAMMONTON — If you’re looking for that team that can challenge Egg Harbor Township for this year’s Cape-Atlantic League Tournament championship, look no further than St. Joseph Academy. The tiny school nestled in the heart of Hammonton has had some tough early season tests, and just keeps passing every one of them.
On Tuesday afternoon the Wildcats got another great performance from pitcher Ava Fisher, a junior from Washington Township, and an outstanding day at the plate from freshman centerfielder Alaina Dorsey to fight off a tough challenge from host Hammonton. St. Joe’s took a 4-0 lead then held on through some tight situations later in the game to win, 4-2, and improve to 4-1 on the year and 3-0 in the CAL American. It was the fourth straight win for the Wildcats, who took over sole possession of first place in the conference, a half-game ahead of EHT (3-0, 2-0).
“We all came into this game really into it. This is a big game for us, always. This is the first year we’ve played them in about four years, so it was big. It was a big win, too,” said Macie Jacquet, a senior catcher from Millville. “We got put into a really hard division (in the CAL) this year with a lot of big schools, and we’re only this little school with about 300 kids. It’s going to test us, but I think we’re ready for it.”
St. Joseph Academy took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third on an RBI single by Jacquet, then extended that lead to 2-0 when Dorsey, who had singled, later scored on one of five errors by the normally sound Hammonton defense. Then, in the top of the fourth, the Wildcats extended their lead to 4-0 when Isabella Ramos’ RBI single scored Isabella Davis, and Dorsey chased home Ramos with an RBI double. Dorsey, a freshman from Mays Landing, went 2-for-3 with a double, a run scored, an RBI, a walk and a stolen base.
“The approach was to just go up there and get on base, and just do what I do. Get on base and find some way to score,” Dorsey said. “It was important (to get a lead). We can always bounce back if we don’t get early runs, but it’s nice to have those early runs so we can just buckle down.”
Jacquet also had a nice day at the plate after a frustrating 1-for-8 against Cedar Creek and West Deptford. She said it’s been a bit of an adjustment going from travel ball to the high school season.
“It’s different with slapping. A lot of slapping is a timing thing,” she said. “I’m coming from playing travel ball where I’m hitting against consistently 65 miles-per-hour, and then dropping down to lower 50s (in high school) it’s a little bit of a difference for me. (Cedar Creek’s Liz Martin) is a phenomenal pitcher, so that’s part of the reason I had some trouble against Cedar Creek.”
With the offense humming along, Fisher took care of the rest. She allowed just four hits while striking out 13 through seven innings. Hammonton (1-2, 0-2 CAL American) got on the board in the bottom of the fourth on a solo home run by Alexa Panagopoylos and shaved the deficit to 4-2 in the fifth when leadoff batter Sophia Vento walked, stole second and scored on a throwing error after a bunt by Ava Divello.
But Fisher worked out of a bases loaded, one-out jam later in the inning by getting a pop-out and strikeout, and over the final two innings she allowed just a single and a walk.
“With warm-ups I can see how her pitches are working,” Jacquet said. “She has a couple of good pitches that we like to call, and if the ones that are consistently good in warm-ups, if we stick with those pitches we’ll have a good game. She comes out here and blows teams out of the water. I mean, when you’re facing 67 (mph) any pitch is going to be a good pitch. She always makes it fun for me.”
“Ava is one of the best pitchers I’ve ever seen,” Dorsey added. “It’s an honor to be playing on the same team as her. The way she pitches is amazing. It’s a beautiful thing to see.”
St. Joseph Academy returns to action today with a road game in Ocean City and has a tournament this weekend, and also has some more tough conference games coming up ahead of a big showdown in Egg Harbor Township on April 24.
“We’re pretty confident,” Jacquet said. “We came in off a win against Cedar Creek, who beat us two times last year. And beating Hammonton is a big confidence boost. We’re getting good hits and having good at-bats and getting the job done in the field, and I think that’s going to continue.”
AddedDorsey, “this win makes us think we can do it. When we beat better teams it makes us think we can go out there and beat anyone.”
What’s next: St. Joseph Academy at Ocean City, today, 4 p.m. Hammonton hosts Millville on Thursday at 4 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays