EGG HARBOR TWP. – No one can deny it’s quite an accomplishment to win consecutive South Jersey Group 4 softball championships.
But it was an achievement made even more special for the Egg Harbor Township team this season.
Not only did the Eagles repeat as champions, but for the second straight season they did it by playing through an undefeated season going into the state semifinals.
The Eagles ran their record to 21-0 Wednesday when Tori Szrom and Emily MacNeil spearheaded a 13-8 win over Rancocas Valley in the sectional Group 4 title game.
Additionally No. 9-hole hitter Alexa Preziosa delivered a two-run double to cap a four-run fifth inning when the Eagles came from behind to lead for good.
The Eagles return to action Thursday to face Montgomery in the state semifinal in a game to be played at Rowan College Gloucester County.
Overall, the Eagles have now won 45 of their last 46 games – their only loss coming in last year’s state championship game.
When it came right down to it, even coach Mary Dunlop had some doubts her team would be able to repeat last year’s success.
After all, the Eagles lost a number of players through graduation and you’d think the simple law of averages would play a part.
“I’m not going to lie, I told the girls from the beginning repeating was going to be harder,” Dunlop said. “You have a target on your back and nobody expects you to do it.
“The pressure is definitely higher, but we tried to prepare the girls for that and let them know that’s what’s going to happen.”
Szrom helped herself with four RBIs and MacNail reached base five times with four hits.
MacNeil helped the Eagles overcome a 7-6 deficit after Rancocas took the lead with five runs in the top of the fifth inning.
“Once we get that one runner on we know we’re going have a rally,” said MacNeil. “I think most of the runs we scored were with two out and it just shows we’re good under pressure. We come through when it’s crucial.
“We’ve been playing together since 2011 so it means a lot to us to come back and win a game like this. (After falling behind) it was like we’re getting this back right here.”
It’s become a familiar role for Szrom to act as a team leader. She wasn’t her sharpest on the mound on Wednesday, but she made up for that deficiency with her offensive output.
“I was in a slump coming into this game,” said Szrom who drove in a run in each of her first four at-bats. “I was hoping I was going to get some hits, but I really wasn’t positive. I just tried to put the ball in play.”
Ashley Delaney came up with the go-ahead hit for Rancocas when her two-out double capped the five-run outburst.
Other teams might have panicked in that situation, but the Eagles have proven over a significant period of time that they know how to win.
They are known for putting a lot of offensive pressure on their opponents and this game proved no different.
They went right to work to make sure their deficit was short-lived.
They struck right back in the bottom of the fifth to regain the lead. It was Presisoi’s double that put the Eagles ahead for good.
“I was just thinking I have to hit this pitch,” said Preziosa. “My job is to just get on base, get hits, just focus on winning. This feels great because even though we won it last year it’s good to win again.”
The Eagles put the game away with three more runs in the sixth inning, aided by a two-run double from Alyssa Martini.
Committing six errors also hurt Rancocas Valley.
“We said from the beginning of the season we can’t make errors and we did,” said Rancocas Valley coach Becky Perkins. “It’s just unfortunate, but today it didn’t work out for us.”