BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP - Players from the West Deptford High School softball team looked confused when the South Jersey Group II title game was stopped after just one batter in the bottom of the first inning Firday.
Buena Regional coach Pam Pickett gathered the softball and briefly presented Ashley Surran with the same ball the senior captain had just dropped into no-man's land in shallow right field for a leadoff single.
It was Surran's 100th career hit, but the highlights were far from over.
The top-seeded Chiefs beat third-seeded West Deptford 7-4 to win the sectional title for the first time since 1990. Buena made its third straight trip to the sectional final after back-to-back one-run losses in its last two appearances.
The Chiefs, who are ranked ninth in The Press Elite 11, advance to play Robbinsville, the Central Jersey champion after its 1-0 win over Raritan. That game will be played Tuesday at Wall Township High School. The starting time had not yet been determined.
"I had to get it done," Surran said of the milestone. "I told myself, 'Get it done the first at-bat so you can enjoy the rest of the game'."
And that's just what Surran did.
She was walked in each of her next two at-bats and scored a run.
But more importantly, Surran called every pitch thrown and was stellar defensively behind the plate.
The Chiefs jumped out to an early lead but fell behind 4-3 after West Deptford plated three runs in the top of the fifth behind Katherine Ziegler's two-run triple.
Natalie Giannascoli quickly tied the game in the bottom of the fifth with a two-out RBI double to the gap in left-center field.
Pitcher Sam Fiocchi and right fielder Jen Cimino, the No. 8 and 9 hitters in Buena's lineup, followed with back-to-back RBI singles to give the Chiefs a 6-4 lead.
Janessa Rios singled home Stephanie Walsh with a big insurance run in the sixth.
"These kids are tenacious," Pickett said.
"They're going to keep coming at you. They're not giving up. They know that they have to play every out in every inning. They're not going to have anybody carry them.
"We told them all season long that there's not one hero: There are 9, 10, 11, 12 heroes and they each have to do their job."
Walsh went 3-for-3 with a double, an RBI and a run scored. Rios went 2-for-4 and showed her range and athleticism on a number of plays at shortstop.
Carly Linus went 2-for-2 with two walks, an RBI and a run scored.
Winning pitcher Fiocchi singled and walked in two plate appearances.
"You could tell they are on a mission," West Deptford coach Amanda Schramm said. "We could tell that right off the bat when we showed up here today.
"I hope they make it all the way and I wish them the best of luck."
Pickett's Chiefs won sectional titles in her second and third seasons as head coach in 1989 and 1990 but Pickett was quick to deflect any talk of previous teams.
"This team, it's the first time they've been here," Pickett said. "It's the first time they are experiencing this together, so it's for them."
Pickett and a number of players and even fans were emotional following the win.
"A lot of people counted this team out because they lost some players last year," Pickett said. "They just have a lot of heart.
"I told them today that if they were dangling from a cliff, don't worry; I have the other end of the rope."
It's hard to overstate what Pickett has meant to Buena softball.
"She does everything for us," Surran said. "She gives up her life from March on to June.
"We're here every day, so it's something you have to give back to her. She puts in as much time and effort as we do."
Contact John O’Kane:
West Deptford 000 130 0-4 6 0
Buena Regional 002 131-7 11 0
2B-Alexander WD; Walsh, Giannascoli BR. 3B-Ziegler WD.
WP-Fiocchi (14-2) 6k; LP-Ponto 1k.
Records-West Deptford 21-6; Buena 26-4.