(WORTH MENTIONING is an ongoing feature from the South Jersey Glory Days staff in which we recognize a player, coach or team for doing something outstanding, give our thoughts on why it’s important, and what it means for the particular program mentioned. If you see or hear about something worth mentioning, email South Jersey Glory Days Publisher Dave O’Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org).
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Most times, when a team loses in the state championship game, the following year all the players say how they are on a mission to make a return trip to the ultimate game, and win it this time. And most times when you hear that you’re like, “yeah, OK, that sounds great, but you guys have a totally different team this year.”
Players on the Egg Harbor Township softball team have been saying it’s their intent to make a return trip to the Group 4 state championship game this year and get some vengeance. The Eagles lost last year in heartbreaking fashion, 2-1, to Watchung Hills as Ella Stevinson cranked a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth.
Of course the Eagles would be fueled by a strong desire to make amends for that kind of finish to a remarkable 25-2 season. But with this year’s team, saying they want to win a state championship is more than just words. These players truly believe, to the core, that they are the best team in the state in Group 4 and have everything they need to make another postseason run.
So far this season the Eagles have been unstoppable, winning their first 10 games — six via shutout. Lenape is the only team that has scored more than two runs against EHT, and the Indians still lost by two.
What makes EHT so good? The Eagles have talent everywhere on the field, they have one of the best pitchers in the state, their batting lineup is solid throughout, and they have a coaching staff that demands their best every day. It’s hard to imagine anyone being as intense as former coach Mary Dunlap, who led the Eagles to a state championship in 2017, but Kristi Troster matches that intensity — and then some. She’s a former college coach, and the Eagles’ practices reflect that. Stop by the field one day and you’ll see Troster hitting rocket-shot ground balls at infielders. By the time the game comes, the grounders the scoop up off the bats of opposing hitters are mere child’s play.
Another thing that makes EHT such a good team is the demeanor of its star players. Pitcher Madison Dollard and shortstop Madison Biddle put fun as their No. 1 priority, and that kind of easy going attitude trickles down through the lineup and puts everyone else at ease. After a recent win over Paul VI, a team that came in sporting a 7-2 record but left after a 10-0 drubbing, Biddle talked about how she views her softball seasons as simply time to have fun with her friends, and the more fun they have together, the more they win.
“Even when we went to Florida we had such a strong bond. When we’re on the field together, it doesn’t feel like we’re out here playing softball, it feels like we’re out here having fun with our friends,” Biddle said. “And the more we have fun, the more we score and the more we win. The more we enjoy each other, we end up enjoying the game.”
She gave these quotes to several reporters while sporting her “Surf Style” sunglasses, as if somebody had just wandered up to her on the beach and asked a few questions for a survey about their favorite things to do at the beach.
Dollard has the same approach. If an opposing team scores a run, or if a fielder behind her commits an error, she doesn’t stomp her feet, frown, slump her shoulders or look skyward in frustration. She’s experienced to know that stuff like that is all part of the game, and that the regular season is just a warm-up for the playoffs. She’s not going to get her feathers ruffled if Eastern Regional scores a run against her in the second week of April.
Normally, a team in this situation — one that has been so good and that every team on its schedule sees as a chance to claim that signature win by beating the Eagles — might play a little tight, that the weight of being one of the few remaining undefeated teams in the state would start to become too heavy a burden to bear.
But this team plays with the free spirits of a bunch of third-graders out there having fun on Field Day, even though they know what their ultimate goal is and that none of them will be satisfied if they don’t achieve it.
“They know the expectation and they know that being a part of this program right now the standards are high. You play with a little bit of a chip on your shoulder. We have to keep hitting and we have to keep plugging it out,” Troster said after that recent win over Paul VI. “They don’t seem to care that they have a bulls eye on their back, but you know what? If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. If they don’t seem to care, I’m not going to let them know. People are going to come headhunting — but I don’t know if they don’t notice or just don’t care. I have a special bunch of personalities, and the freshmen have only added to that. They handle everything very well.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays