HAMMONTON - The Hammonton High School softball team showed its grit Sunday.
Senior third baseman Brigette Alessandrini epitomized the Blue Devils' effort.
They rallied to beat Sacred Heart 8-7 in extra innings in the first round of the 32nd annual Hammonton Softball Invitational Tournament. The Blue Devils then lost to Eastern 4-1 in the quarterfinals. Eastern will play Washington Township in Saturday's semifinals. Saturday's other semifinal will match Vineland against Shawnee.
Hammonton coach Stacy Jones chose to focus more on the win than the loss.
"We showed a lot of heart and character against a good (Sacred Heart) team," she said.
Hammonton played against Eastern without Alessandrini. She cut her leg above the knee when she crashed into a fence trying to catch a pop-up in the fourth inning against Sacred Heart.
But she didn't let the Hammonton coaches or trainer know. She played the rest of the inning in the field and then laid down a sacrifice bunt in Hammonton's following at-bat.
Only then did she let the trainer look at the cut. Alessandrini had to leave the game to get stitches.
"She did not want to come out of the game," Jones said.
Hammonton felt Alessandrini's absence against Eastern.
"She's a senior captain," Jones said. "That's a lot of leadership. I think it took the wind out of our sails."
The 16-team Hammonton Invitational features many of South Jersey's top teams. The Hammonton-Sacred Heart contest was highly anticipated as both are among the Cape-Atlantic League's best. Hammonton is ranked No. 7 in The Press Elite 11, while Sacred Heart is No. 8. Eastern is No. 5.
The Blue Devils trailed Sacred Heart 7-6 as they came to bat in the top of the seventh inning. Even though Hammonton hosted the tournament, the Blue Devils were the road team because they lost a pregame coin flip.
Hammonton shortstop Morgan DiVello (2-for-5 with two RBIs) tied the game with an RBI double in the top of the seventh.
The Blue Devils scored the winning run on Franki Rudnesky's RBI double in the top of the eighth inning.
Rudnesky had not hit the ball out of the infield in her previous at-bats.
"That (double) was what I was hoping to do the whole game," she said.
The Blue Devils celebrated their Sacred Heart win and then almost immediately took the field against Eastern, which had beaten Cumberland Regional 5-1 in the first round.
"I think we were a little flat (for Eastern)," Jones said.
Still, Hammonton led 1-0 after three innings on DiVello's first-inning RBI single. But the lead should have been bigger. Hammonton left the bases loaded in the first inning. The Blue Devils left two runners on in the third.
Hammonton freshman pitcher Paige Neilson allowed just one hit through the first four innings.
But Eastern turned the game in its favor with a two-out hit in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Emily Serata, who had struck out in her first two at-bats, hit a two-run home run well over the left-field fence. The blast gave the Vikings a 2-1 lead, and they never trailed again.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Hammonton 010 104 11-8 11 2
Sacred Heart 300 004 00-7 7 5
2B-DiVello, Hellyer, Rudnesky HAM. Lugo, Castellini SH.
WP-Hellyer 2k. LP-LaGrotta 2k.
Records-Hammonton 8-2; Sacred Heart 8-1
Hammonton 100 000 0-1 6 1
Eastern 000 021 1-4 5 2
HR-Serata, Gaynor E.
WP-Heaton 1k. LP-Neilson 4k.
Records-Hammonton 8-3; Eastern 14-2