By Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor
On Friday, June 7, prior to departing for Seton Hall University to play in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final, Donovan Catholic softball coach Debbie Schwartz gathered her team in the Toms River school’s parish office to discuss topics other than softball.
“Instead of practicing, we just all sat together and talked about different Bible stories, about coming together as one,” senior pitcher Lindsay Nelson said. “It was really nice – we just talked about stories that had to do with everyone needing each other … and not being individuals. Faith was very important to us, especially in our state run.”
Senior third baseman Lindsey Hay felt the lesson made an impact.
“We talked about three strands being stronger than two and two strands being stronger than one,” Hay said. “Our coach told us that she wouldn’t be anything without us, and we wouldn’t be anything without her. She’s completely right.”
That sense of unity came to fruition four hours later, when Donovan Catholic completed a 10-0, five-inning victory over Cedar Grove to win the third annual Tournament of Champions. Nelson pitched a 4-hitter with five strikeouts and had three RBI, while Jayda Kearney had two hits, two runs and three RBI; Karina Gaskins (the Gatorade New Jersey Softball Player of the Year) and Hay each had a hit and scored three runs, and Mya Lamicella and Mikayla LaPlaca both had two RBI.
After needing 10 innings to beat St. John Vianney in the South Jersey Non-Public A final, the Griffins won the state final and two TOC games by a combined score of 27-2. Sandwiched in-between was a 4-3 loss to the Lancers in the Shore Conference Tournament final, which did nothing to slow Donovan Catholic’s momentum when the TOC began two days later.
“We went into all of those games with confidence,” Nelson said. “We knew St. John Vianney would probably be our biggest obstacle. Once we got by them, we wanted to play loose and have fun.”
The championships ended three years of frustration for the seniors, who lost state finals freshmen and sophomores and the sectional title game to SJV last year. The expectations have been high ever since Donovan Catholic beat Notre Dame in the 2016 South Jersey final, when Hay, Nelson and Lamicella – this year’s starting seniors – were ninth-graders.
“We talk about our freshman year a lot and how we would play games we didn’t even know what they were for, if they were Shore Conference or states,” Nelson said. “After that year, when everyone had so much faith in our potential, that drove us to want to work even harder the next years and keep building up this name for our team and our school.”
Hay added, “[The expectations] definitely put a little pressure on us, but I don’t think it got to us in any way. We just fell short, and made a couple mistakes but we learned from them.”
Nelson is headed to Drexel University in Philadelphia, the school she chose as a freshman and from which she never wavered. Hay will play for New York’s Hofstra University after de-committing from Rutgers when its coach left. In their four years, Donovan Catholic went 112-11 and ended the run in style.
“If we didn’t win this year, I don’t think I could have fallen asleep that night, we would have felt so empty,” Hay said. “There was nothing getting between us and that trophy.”