By BRIAN CUNNIFF
UNION — Anna Mae Peterson made a rather bold prediction after her Wildwood Catholic High School softball team lost to Immaculate Conception of Lodi in the state Non-Public B championship game for the second straight year on Sunday at Kean University.
“We’re winning this next year,” Peterson, a junior first baseman, said confidently. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Her statement came just seconds after a somber post-game huddle following the 3-0 loss to the North Jersey powerhouse, Immaculate Conception winning its sixth straight state championship, an unprecedented feat in New Jersey high school softball.
Peterson is one of the players among the team’s large group of juniors. Wildwood Catholic (21-8) will graduate just two seniors. Its entire starting infield, a couple of starting outfielders from Sunday’s game and many of the team’s bench players are slated to return in 2019.
Immaculate Concepcion (20-7) won the contest by silencing a normally potent Crusader hitting attack.
Junior pitcher Caylee English held Wildwood Catholic to only two hits and just as many base runners for the entire game.
“Our big thing, we just didn’t hit,” Wildwood Catholic coach Matt Megines said. “Normally we hit very well but today we didn’t.”
English got help from an extraordinary defense behind her. In the bottom of the second inning, Wildwood Catholic’s Taylor Williams led off the inning by blasting the ball to deep center field, only to see Immaculate Conception’s Liz Slovak make a wonderful catch while crashing into the fence.
Immaculate Concepcion shortstop Jaden Farhat also made two great catches on popups, one in shallow left field and the other a diving effort just behind the pitcher’s mound. And first baseman Faith Camilleri made a diving catch of a line drive hit by Wildwood Catholic’s Emily Cimino.
“They made the plays,” Megines said. “That’s a great team. They’ve been here before. They’ve done it.”
Immaculate Concepcion scored twice in the third inning, the big blow coming via a double down the right field line by Farhat. An error led to another run in the fifth.
“It’s hard to lose a game when you only give up four hits and only make one error,” Megines said.
Wildwood Catholic’s lone hit through the first six innings came on a single by Peterson.
Cimino belted a double to deep left field with one out in the seventh but English got Williams to ground out and retired Peterson to end the game on a long fly ball that was caught just in front of the fence in right field.
“For us to work as hard as we did and then have this kind of offensive showing is disappointing,” Megines said. “I probably won’t sleep well for two or three days.
“We’re not a state championship team yet. We have some things to work on. But I know the girls will work hard and do the best they can to get ready to try to get back here again next year.”