The Sacred Heart High School softball team will try to create one more memory for its school today.
The Lions (31-3) will meet Immaculate Conception of Lodi (29-2) for the state Non-Public B title at 3 p.m. at Toms River East. Sacred Heart beat Immaculate Conception 3-1 in last year's final.
Today's game is sure to be an emotional one for the Lions. The Vineland school, which opened in 1927, will close this month because of low enrollment.
"I feel like there's not a lot of pressure, but there's a lot on our minds right now," junior Gabby Castellini said. "This is the last game we'll be together."
Sacred Heart officials announced in April that the school would close at the end of this school year.
Many times since the announcement, strangers have come to Sacred Heart players at stores and other places to ask how they're doing and to tell them they're rooting for the team.
"It's good knowing that the (community support) is there," Castellini said, "but it's sad at the same time because we're not going to be here next year."
The Lions have played all season with the pressure of trying to win a championship for their school. That's a lot to ask of one team, but the Lions have handled it remarkably well, bringing a 14-game winning streak into today's contest.
Pitcher Rosie LaGrotta is 23-2 with 90 strikeouts and a 1.26 ERA. Castellini is batting .421 with 27 RBIs. Freshman Kaila Smith has knocked in 42 runs.
"We want to go out with a bang," LaGrotta said. "It would feel great (to win)."
Immaculate Conception features a dominant pitcher in freshman Sarah Piening, who has struck out 152 in 119 innings. The Blue Wolves also feature sophomore catcher Lea Georgatos, who transferred to the school this year. She is batting .478 with three home runs and 39 RBIs.
"We have to try not to do too much and just hit the ball where it's pitched," Sacred Heart coach Les Olson said.
Sacred Heart already held its final graduation and athletic banquet. Today, the Lions and their fans get to live in the moment. Win or lose, soon there will be only memories on which to look back.
"This will be the last time we play together no matter what," Castellini said. "We're going to do our best."
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