By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
HAMMONTON — On Monday, the St. Joseph Academy softball team was sluggish in its season-opening 5-1 loss against Audubon. The Wildcats managed six hits — five of which were singles — and struck out 12 times against Green Wave starter Emily Bobo.
Whatever St. Joe coach Les Olson said following that loss must have struck a chord with his team, because the Cats have been on fire since. They blasted Millville, 13-4, on Wednesday, and on Thursday afternoon they bested Cedar Creek, 6-1. It was a little bit of payback for St. Joe, which lost last year to Cedar Creek in the semifinals of the inaugural Cape-Atlantic League Tournament.
“We’ve played them a lot the last couple of years, including in the CAL Tournament last year (an 8-6 loss). I told the girls before the game that we always talk about putting stuff in your back pocket that doesn’t go your way, and being able to pull it back out. I said the last time they came here it wasn’t a good situation. They beat us up pretty bad, so I said, ‘it’s time to pull that back out.’ And they did what they had to do today,” Olson said. “I thought it was a good team win, a lot of people got involved.”
Ava Fisher, a junior from Washington Township, certainly was involved throughout. The 5-foot-10 righthander stymied Cedar Creek’s offense, limiting the Pirates to just four hits and a run over seven innings while striking out eight. She did walk seven batters, but got some outstanding defensive plays from the likes of shortstop Brooke Tyndale and center fielder Alaina Dorsey to help limit the damage from the free passes.
“I just realized I needed to slow down my pitching and not worry about how hard I was throwing. I had to hit my spots, spin the ball and let my defense have my back. It wasn’t about strikeouts, it was about letting my defense have my back. I knew we were coming into a hard game today against a very good offensive team, I just figured after the first inning I could slow things down and let my defense get it done,” Fisher said. “I think I have a few things to work on and tweak, but I think I’m doing pretty good — a lot better than last season.”
Cedar Creek (0-2, 0-2 Cape-Atlantic League American) jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning as Leah Martin doubled to the gap in right-center, moved to third on a groundout by Allison Amadio and trotted home on an RBI single to right by Kelsey McFadden. But Fisher worked out of a two-on, two-out jam by getting an infield pop-up.
St. Joseph Academy (2-1, 2-0 CAL American) was held in check offensively until the bottom of the third inning when the Wildcats plated a pair of runs to take the lead for good. Fisher — who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs — ripped a run-scoring double down the left-field line to tie the game, 1-1, and later in the inning courtesy runner Tiffany Wiley scored on a bad-hop single by Jenna Calchi. Pirates starter Liz Martin got a pair of strikeouts to end the inning, but St. Joseph tacked on some insurance runs in the fourth off Cedar Creek’s relief corps. Abby Willis, who went 3-for-3, stroked a two-run double to right to push the lead to 4-1, and the next batter, Fisher, blasted a tw-run homer to right to make it 6-1.
“Abby is really good about getting people hyped up for the game and we’ve done really well with stringing hits together. If one person gets a hit it seems like it’s one after another,” Fisher said. “I knew with a 3-and-0 count she’d be coming right down the middle, or somewhere in the strike zone, so I was like, ‘if I see something good, I’m going to swing.’ It was important to get that cushion.”
St. Joseph Academy rapped out 10 hits, including three from Willis, two each from Fisher and Dorsey and one each from Isabella Ramos, Isabella Davis and Kylie Tomlin, and, more importantly, the defense played errorless ball.
Olson said it’s nice to see things starting to come together after the slow start against Audubon. The Wildcats have a tough stretch coming up, as they host West Deptford on Saturday before facing Hammonton and Ocean City next week ahead of the Overbrook Tournament.
“For some reason we didn’t have the fire on Monday, Opening Day,” Olson said. “The day before I was the one going crazy and they were all like, ‘what’s wrong with you today, coach?’ I said, ‘It’s Opening Day Eve! What are you talking about? It’s like Christmas Eve! Tomorrow is Opening Day!’ But we just didn’t have that fire. Audubon is a really good team and we were in it, 1-1, into the sixth inning and you would have though we were losing by five at that point. We talked about how good teams find a way to rebound, and we played well in Millville, put some pressure on them, and came back and did the same thing (against Cedar Creek). Being 2-0 in this division is big.
“Audubon is better than people think,” he continued. “They have two good pitchers this year, (Bobo) and they have this freshman (Alaina Copsetta) who beat Gloucester. They are already 3-0, so they are a tough team.”
Said Fisher, “we have a lot better team bond that we did at the beginning of the season last year. We’re all really close and we stick together. It’s a family feel, and we’re doing great so far. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season.”
What’s next: St. Joseph Academy hosts West Deptford on Saturday at 10 a.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays