By BRIAN CUNNIFF
SEWELL — About 10 minutes after the final out was recorded at last year’s state Non-Public B championship game, Wildwood Catholic softball coach Matt Megines implored his returning players to do what was necessary to give themselves a chance to return.
They gave themselves a chance. And now they’ve reached their goal.
Wildwood Catholic survived a couple harrowing moments in the seventh inning before finally putting away St. Joseph, 7-4, to secure its second straight South Jersey title and a berth in the state championship game for the second straight year.
The Crusaders are scheduled to face Lodi Immaculate, the team that beat them in last year’s state final, on Sunday at noon at Kean University, weather permitting.
“This is huge for the program,” Megines said. “We wanted to go back to that (state championship) game again. After we lost last year, the girls took it upon themselves to work all summer, all fall and all winter to get better. They wanted to be there. We have a big junior class and they said they wanted to get back there twice and try to win two state titles.”
Lodi Immaculate has won five straight state championships.
“We have a lot of gamers, a lot of girls that want to play college ball,” Megines said. “Lodi’s won a bunch (of state titles) in a row, so it would be nice if we could go up there and take it from them.
“I think we’ll be more ready. We’re a little more mature and a little more experienced, especially after having played in the game last year.”
Leading 7-1 with two outs in the seventh in the sectional final, Wildwood Catholic (21-7) seemed to have the win in hand when third baseman Bella Feraco cleanly fielded a ground ball and tossed to first baseman Anna Mae Peterson for what appeared to be the final out. But the base umpire ruled the St. Joe runner safe on the play, despite clear video evidence to the contrary (see attached video).
St. Joe’s Jailyn Purnell then ripped a two-run triple and Starr Barker added an RBI double to put the tying run in the on-deck circle, but Wildwood Catholic pitcher Emily Cimino caught a harmless popup off the bat of Carli Melchiorre to finally end the game.
After both teams threatened but did not score in the opening frame, Wildwood Catholic broke through for five runs in the second, all scored with two outs. Brianna Bailey walked with the bases loaded to force in a run before Cimino blasted a three-run double to deep left field. Anna Mae Peterson then sent Cimino home with an RBI single to right.
St. Joe (23-7) got on the board in the bottom of the second by scoring on a wild pitch with the bases loaded, but Cimino struck out the next batter to limit the damage.
Wildwood Catholic pushed its final two runs across in the fourth. Bailey’s RBI double scored Mercedes Rivera and Taylor Williams later hit an infield single with two outs to chase home Bailey.
“Once one person gets a hit, everyone just builds off it,” Williams said. “When a couple girls get hits, it’s easier for everyone to stay up and keep it going.”
Bailey had two hits and two runs scored, Williams had two hits and Rivera added a hit, two walks and two runs scored. And Cimino was 1 for 1 with three RBI and four walks, three of which were intentional.
Cimino struck out seven for the pitching win, her 10th of the season. She did not pitch for a couple of a weeks during the middle portion of the season after suffering a hip injury.
But she’ll most certainly be on the mound again for the state title game.
“It feels great to get back,” Cimino said. “I think we’re more prepared this year. We have more experience. I think we’re hitting the ball better and we’re playing better defense. So I’m excited to see what happens.”