HAMMONTON - A few uncontrollable set backs delayed a championship for the Hammon-ton Little League softball team Saturday.
The start time of the Section 4 final at Hammonton Lake Park was pushed back from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. due to excessive heat. Then, a lightning delay paused the game for more than an hour with just one inning completed.
On the field, however, nothing could stop Hammonton, which beat West Cumberland 20-0 in four innings to win its third straight Section 4 championship. Hammonton advances to the state championship tournament next weekend in Wallington, Bergen County.
Once lightning appeared in an ominous sky, the teams of 11- and 12-year-olds took solace in Hammonton's batting cages.
"We sat around and talked, mostly on our cell phones," said Hammonton second baseman Nicole Vacarella, who helped power Hammonton's offense, going 4-for-4 with four RBIs and three runs.
Sitting around could have hurt either team's concentration. But the delay actually helped Hammonton.
"It was nice to sit around and bond," pitcher Maddie Emmons said.
Hammonton's explosive offense helped them cruise through the Section 4 tournament unbeaten. The District 16 champions had decisive wins over Harrison Township and Franklin Township and two wins over West Cumberland.
Meanwhile, District 3 champ West Cumberland beat Gloucester and Cherry Hill Atlantic. They lost to Hammonton in the semifinals but beat Harrison Township in the loser's bracket to reach the final.
West Cumberland couldn't keep up with Hammonton's batters, which produced 16 hits.
"They have not put the bats down since last season," Hammonton manager Pepi Leo said. "They've worked all fall and all winter to get here."
It wasn't just big bats that propelled Hammonton to a win. Its defense showed resiliency as well.
Emmons tossed four shutout innings, allowed seven hits and struck out two. She worked out of a second-inning, one-out jam when a single and subsequent steal by West Cumberland's Kyle Ogden put runners on second and third.
Hammonton catcher Kay Bird-Clahar picked off a runner stealing second in the first inning. After taking a hard foul tip to the shoulder in the next inning, she stayed in the game and ended up with three RBIs.
Hammonton is hungry for a state title. It took third place in the championship tournament last year and second in 2010.
"We've been working really hard," Vacarella said. "This is our year."
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