SEWELL – Mary Dunlap won’t designate any one person as the centerpiece player on the Egg Harbor Township High School softball team.
“I have a whole team of all-stars,” said Dunlap, the Eagles head coach.
When a team has accumulated 46 wins in its last 47 games, who can argue? It clearly takes more than one person contributing to accomplish that feat.
Still, if there was one player who could be pointed to as a reason for the team’s success, which includes a 22-0 record this season, pitcher Tori Szram has to be near the top.
Szrom pitched a four-hit shutout Thursday as the Eagles earned a 2-0 win over Montgomery in a state Group 4 semifinal game played at Rowan College of Gloucester County.
“Tori has been outstanding throughout her whole high school career,” said Dunlap. “I give her credit for what she did today.”
Szram’s team gave her just enough offensive and defensive support to send the Eagles to a return trip to the state Group 4 championship this weekend at Kean University.
It was in that game last season that the Eagles sustained their only loss, and they are determined to turn that result around now that they’ve earned a second chance.
“It feels great going back and we just need to finish it,” said Szram. “We need to pull through and end up on top.”
The Eagles will meet Hunterdon Central in the title game. They were awaiting to hear whether the game will be played on Saturday or Sunday.
Either way, Dunlap was just happy that her team was going to get a chance to avenge a disappointing end to last year’s season. She thinks last year’s experience will help the team be more prepared to cope with the pressures of playing for a championship.
“The atmosphere is different, the field is different, nothing about it is normal,” Dunlap said of playing for a state title. “So that is how were’ going to compete this year. We’re going to prepare for the unexpected.”
Thursday’s game was a hotly contested matchup of two very skilled and talented teams.
While Szrom was doing her thing on the mound for the Eagles, Montgomery countered with a well-pitched game by St. John’s recruit Peyton Schnackenberg.
The difference in the game came down to Egg Harbor making a couple of big defensive plays while Montgomery was hurt by two errors in the fourth inning when the Eagles scored both of their runs.
The inning began when Alyssa Martini opened with a single and advanced to second when the right fielder threw the ball away retuning it to the infield.
Then Dunlap made the key decision of the game, asking Szrom – one of the team’s best hitters -- to bunt. She didn’t hesitate to make the call.
“We preach the fundamentals all the time,” Dunlap said. “We knew after the first couple of innings it was going to be a one- or two-run game, and we needed to score. It doesn’t matter whose spot it is – you need to execute.”
As it turned out, Szrom put down a perfect bunt along the third base line. The Montgomery third baseman hesitated hoping the ball would roll foul.
When it was apparent the ball was going to stay fair, she picked it up late and threw the ball away.
The overthrow allowed Martini to score and Szram advanced to second. After a ground out, she eventually score on RBI ground ball from Kaitlyn Riggs.
On the other hand, the Egg Harbor defense was there for Szrom when she needed it.
Now down by two runs, Montgomery tried to make a comeback in the fifth inning, which began with Tori Ferryola hitting a sinking liner to right field.
However, right fielder Marissa Varella made a diving catch to record the first out of the inning.
Later in the inning, Christiana Willard singled and moved up on a sacrifice bunt. With two outs, Kira Ferrialo launched a rocket to left field that appeared to have `double’ written all over it.
But this time left fielder Bri Lagroteria covered a huge amount of ground to make the inning-ending catch.
“I just ran it down,” Lagroteria said. “I believe if a ball comes to the outfield, it’s not dropping. As soon as the ball’s hit I’m thinking I’m going to catch it. There was no doubt in my mind we were going to win this game.”