BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP - Sacred Heart High School pitcher Rosie LaGrotta gasped when the ball was hit.
St. Joseph's Kathryn Bromiley crushed the ball toward the gap in left-center field with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning and her team trailing by four.
LaGrotta thought St. Joseph was back in the game.
Center fielder Gabby Castellini had different ideas.
Castellini got a great jump on the ball and dove, fully outstretched, to snare the ball before it hit the ground.
LaGrotta and Castellini led the way offensively, as well, as Sacred Heart beat the Wildcats 7-0 to repeat as South Jersey Non-Public B champions.
Sacred Heart will try to repeat as state champions Saturday when it plays North Jersey Non-Public B champ Immaculate Conception High School (Lodi) in Toms River.
Tuesday's game was played at Buena Regional High School.
"Once the ball was hit, I thought it was going to be in the gap," Castellini said. "Then, as soon as I got closer to it, I knew I had a chance, so I tried and I got it."
St. Joseph's bench and fans lining foul territory down the third-base line all thought that the ball was trapped.
Even Castellini said she wasn't completely sure she had made the catch.
"At first I didn't know," she said. "But when I saw it was in my glove, I was so happy."
Castellini went 3-for-4 with a run scored.
Tuesday's win was a prototypical LaGrotta victory.
She didn't strike out a single batter but didn't walk one either, and she did a nice job keeping the ball off the barrel of the bat.
"It feels amazing," LaGrotta said. "Without my team I wouldn't be here. I have great fielding behind me."
LaGrotta's pitches work in and out and she does a nice job changing levels with her entire arsenal of pitches.
"When I throw, I keep the ball low and then outside," LaGrotta said. "Ground balls win games, as my dad always says."
LaGrotta bats eighth and flies under the radar offensively in a deep Sacred Heart lineup.
But she got things started on Tuesday with a two-out, two-run double to right field to break a scoreless tie and give the Lions a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning.
She added another RBI single in the team's three-run seventh inning.
Lauren Dwyer and Krysten Makos each had two hits.
St. Joseph's Dominique D'Andrea went 3-for-3.
Tuesday's game was actually a battle of Cape-Atlantic League Conference champs.
Sacred Heart, No. 3 in The Press Elite 11, won the National Conference and St. Joseph the American Conference.
And St. Joseph coach Candi Dean hopes this season was just the beginning.
The Wildcats had no seniors in their starting lineup on Tuesday.
"We're a young team," Dean said. "I feel like Sacred Heart is us next year. A lot of those girls have been starting since they were freshman and sophomores.
"I feel like I've seen these faces the last couple of years, and I hope that's kind of what we will look like next year - very experienced, very comfortable and just solid all around."
Tuesday was the last time Sacred Heart and St. Joseph will play.
Low enrollment forced the closing of Sacred Heart at the end of the current school year.
Dean said she will miss competing against the Lions.
"It was always a quality battle," Dean said. "We knew it was always going to be a tough game and that's why you play varsity sports. That's why you compete."
But Sacred Heart has one more goal before the season is over.
The school has a rematch with Immaculate, who it beat in last season's state final.
"It feels so good because this is our last year playing, all of us together, and we're trying to go out with a bang," Castellini said.
Contact John O’Kane:
Sacred Heart 000 220 3-7 10 0
St. Joseph 000 000 0-0 7 1
WP-LaGrotta (23-2) 0k. LP-D'Andrea (15-4) 7k.
Records-Sacred Heart 31-3; St. Joseph 19-6.
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