By DAVE O’SULLIVAN

Staff Writer

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Madison Dollard, the star sophomore pitcher for Egg Harbor Township High’s softball team, was so wound up on Friday night that she had to go for a run around her neighborhood. The South Jersey Group 4 championship game against Kingsway was washed out Friday afternoon, suspended in the top of the third inning after some heavy rain with the host Eagles leading 5-0.

EHT was so close to another sectional championship, but would have to wait nearly 24 hours. No big deal for this group of players, who saw a whole season wiped away two years ago because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dollard made sure the wait was worth it, as during Saturday afternoon’s restart she helped her own cause by slamming a two-run home run, then finished what she started inside the circle as the No. 1 Eagles beat No. 2 Kingsway 7-3 to win their first South Jersey championship since 2017. In that season, EHT went 23-1 and won a state championship. This year’s Eagles are trying to repeat that type of success, and seem well on their way.

The Eagles (23-1) dominated Kingsway (22-2) for much of the afternoon — or afternoons, if you will — jumping out to a 5-0 lead on Friday in the first two innings then tacking on two more on Dollard’s dinger in the bottom of the third. Kingsway got a three-run home run from freshman Hanna Weismer in the top of the fifth, but other than that, Dollard was untouchable. She allowed seven hits — including just one in the first two-plus innings on Friday — struck out seven and walked only two in seven innings.

Egg Harbor Township sophomore Madison Dollard finished with seven strikeouts inside the circle for the Eagles. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

Egg Harbor Township’s offense, by contrast, rapped out 11 hits against three Kingsway pitchers.

“I had in my mind — I didn’t tell them that — but anything less than winning this game, I would have felt like we underachieved this year. So, winning this game was of the utmost importance, I think, for them, for me, even for the program. When you keep doing things like this — when you keep coming back to this game, and winning it — it helps to keep getting all these great kids in the future coming to EHT. If we keep getting them to come here, we’ll keep making dreams like this happen,” said EHT coach Kristi Troster, who took over the program before the cancelled 2020 season. “When they are spot on, nothing fazes them. Our bats have been spot on all year, and to hit all their pitchers, that was something good because they switched it up on us but we still managed to get a few more runs in. Those were big runs today. The fact that we came out that hot (on Friday) was a best case scenario. That’s what our bats are capable of. I think (having a 5-0 lead) kept their minds at ease. If it’s only 2-0, I think that makes you more anxious, but with 5-0 it was kind of a security blanket.”

“This is the first step to winning a state championship, so it’s very excited,” Dollard said. “I feel like we’ve come together to win it all. I’m a little shaky right now, but it feels great.”

Dollard faced just four batters in the top of the seventh, allowing just a single to Madison Grub. The final out was a harmless pop-up on the infield between shortstop Madison Biddle and second baseman Jessie Alkins. Biddle — as she’s done all season as the captain of the infield — took control, caught the ball and set off the celebration by the Eagles.  

“I wanted the last out to be with me, but everybody knows when Biddle calls the ball to back off. So I was like, ‘that’s fine, as long as we win, I don’t care.’ We still have two more games to go (to win a state title) but I’m enjoying this moment, on our home field, and hopefully we go all the way,” said Alkins, one of eight seniors on EHT’s roster. “I remember my first freshman game, this is my last home game, and there’s no better way to go out for my career. This is the best feeling ever. I’m sad (that my career is almost over) but so happy at the same time. I was worried, like anybody else would have been, that this is a different day with different energy. We didn’t know how the other team was going to come out here today, but we had a pretty good lead and I was just hoping for the best.

“We lost to (Kingsway) earlier in the year and we knew we could have beaten them, so there was no doubt in my mind that we could beat them.”

Senior Jessie Alkins hugs shortstop Madison Biddle as EHT celebrates its first South Jersey championship since 2017. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

Kayla Dollard — Madison’s older sister, and a senior — led things off in the bottom of the first with a walk and a steal of second base. She scored ahead of Sienna Walterson’s RBI single to left and Payton Colbert followed with a run-scoring single. The lead reached 3-0 on a single down the left-field line by freshman Sofia Spatocco that scored pinch runner Kaitlyn Rosario, and after a two-run single to right by Ryley Martini, EHT led 5-0.

The rains came in the top of the third, forcing the game to be completed on Saturday afternoon.  

“They came back before, so that (5-0 lead) was great. We knew they were a rally team so I feel like that put us in position where we have to keep going. That felt good for us,” Madison Dollard said. “It was just a mental thing. You have to go home, get some sleep. You can’t overthink it. This game felt so long. I had to go for a run (Friday night) to get all the adrenaline out. I just took a nice jog for a good mile or so.”

The home runs — Dollard’s two-run shot in the third and Weismer’s blast in the fifth — were the only offense once the game resumed on Saturday. Kingsway couldn’t mount a rally after cutting the deficit to 7-3, as Dollard set down six of the last eight batters she faced.

“There isn’t a list long enough for what makes this team special. We are a unique bunch of personalities. I call them ‘The Magical Unicorns’ because they just have personalities. I know coaches probably say this more often than not, but they are as fantastic as people as they are athletes. They are fun loving, they respect the game, they respect each other and they play for the right reasons,” Troster said. “I think preparing and playing this way, against a team like (Kingsway), I think at that point you’re prepared to play almost anyone. They have good pitching, they have good hitting, they are a well-coached program, they’re disciplined. At this point, if somebody is going to come for us, I think we’re coming for them, too.”

What’s next: EHT at Freehold Township, Wednesday, time TBD in Group 4 semifinals. Winner plays either Livingston or Watchung Hills on Saturday, June 4 at Ivy Hill Park in Newark for the Group 4 state championship.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays