By BRIAN CUNNIFF
NORTH WILDWOOD — Call them the Crusader Crushers.
The Wildwood Catholic High School softball team slugged another home run and recorded four extra-base hits overall in its 13-1 win in five innings over Holy Spirit in a second-round South Jersey Non-Public B tournament game Thursday afternoon.
The top-seeded Crusaders will host No. 5 Holy Cross in a sectional semifinal game on Tuesday.
Emily Cimino smashed an opposite-field home run and had two singles to lead a 20-hit attack. Mercedes Rivera, Lauren Sorensen and Anna Mae Peterson also had three hits apiece.
The Crusader offensive explosion was a continuation of what’s gone on all season. Cimino’s home run was her 13th of the season, putting her among the tops in the state.
As a team, Wildwood Catholic has belted 33 home runs and 89 extra-base hits overall in 26 games.
Wildwood Catholic coach Matt Megines said Cimino’s father, Todd, began instructing many of the players on the team with their hitting over the winter.
“Their old hitting coach retired, so a lot of the girls took it upon themselves to go to Emily’s house and hit all winter long,” Megines said. “We knew we had power but we didn’t think we’d have this many (extra-base hits). I think it’s contagious. They’re all hitting the ball really, really well.”
In addition to Cimino’s output, junior Anna Mae Peterson has hit eight home runs and freshman Brianna Bailey has recorded seven. Tahtiyana Camba has added two home runs and Mercedes Rivera, Annika Marks, Noelle Probst and Mackenzie Joslin have each added one.
“We expected to hit the ball hard,” Megines said. “We try to focus on hitting the ball hard up the middle and into the gaps. A home run’s actually kind of a mistake. But the girls are all strong and some of them are going out.”
Wildwood Catholic entered last year’s state tournament — which ended with a South Jersey title and a loss in the state title game — with two less defeats than this year’s team. But the Crusaders faced a much tougher out-of-league schedule in 2018.
Megines believes having faced tougher pitching during the regular season will pay dividends in the state playoffs.
“We tried to schedule some good teams that had Division I (college)-caliber pitching or elite travel ball pitchers,” he said. “We figured it would help us when we got to this point as we try to make another run through the tournament.”