SJV softball earns second straight sectional title with 10-inning win over Notre Dame

June 4, 2024 at 10:12 a.m.
The St. John Vianney softball team shows off its plaque after take a 3-0 win at Notre Dame Jan. 3 in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A championship game. Rich Fisher photo
The St. John Vianney softball team shows off its plaque after take a 3-0 win at Notre Dame Jan. 3 in the NJSIAA South Jersey Non-Public A championship game. Rich Fisher photo

By RICH FISHER
Contributing Editor

When Gabby Gonzalez and Madison McDougall were in kindergarten, they would hang out together as Maddie’s grandpa gave Gabby’s sister pitching lessons.

Flash forward 10 years, and as sophomores on Holmdel’s St. John Vianney softball team, they already own one NJSIAA Non-Public A state championship and two South Jersey Non-Public A titles.

The latest sectional title came June 3 when the 2nd-seeded Lancers defeated top-seeded Notre Dame, 3-0, in 10 innings in Lawrenceville.

And it doesn’t surprise the 10th-graders at all.

Madison McDougall (10) and her teammates celebrate the sophomore hurler's 500th career strikeout, which she achieved against Notre Dame Jan. 3. Rich Fisher photo 

“This was our dream from little league and up,” Gonzalez said. “Maddie is an amazing pitcher and when coach Kim (Lombardi-McDougall) invited us to be on this team that’s how we became best friends.”

The coach’s daughter concurred. 

“It feels amazing,” McDougall said. “Me and Gabby had talked about these days ever since we were five or six years old growing up playing travel ball together. We’re ready to take it all the way again.”

The final step comes June 6 at Kean University when SJV meets the winner of the June 4 game between Sparta’s Pope John XXIII and Caldwell’s Mount St. Dominic Academy.

Gonzalez and McDougall played a big part in getting there. McDougall threw a 4-hitter with no walks and 10 strikeouts, including the 500th of her career. Gomez went 3-for-5 with an RBI single to make it 2-0 in the 10th.

It was another heartbreak for Notre Dame (25-2), which fell to SJV 2-1 in last year’s sectional semifinals.

The Irish’s Rylee Michalak matched McDougall through nine innings. During that time, she allowed four hits and three walks while striking out five. She stranded a runner on second in the fifth-through-eighth innings.

McDougall was even more dominant but had some hiccups and left ND runners on second in the sixth-through-eighth.

“I didn’t worry about the runner on second,” McDougall said. “I just kept grinding at the batter who was at the plate.”

Notre Dame team members display the flag in the outfield as the national anthem played prior to the SJ Non-Public A title game with St. John Vianney. Rich Fisher photo 

There was an anxious moment in the sixth. With a runner on second and two outs, ND’s Alayna Giampolo smoked a line drive to left that looked like extra bases. But freshman Mia Favato dove and laid her body out full extension to make a backhand catch an inch off the ground.

“I just saw the ball and was aggressive toward it,” Favato said. “I practice it all the time and I can get after it on any play like that.”

Asked how the ball didn’t pop out, she smiled and said, ‘You just gotta trust in it.”

After nine scoreless innings, SJV’s Nicole Giglio went to second as SJV’s automatic runner, which goes into effect in the 10th inning for softball.

Giglio went to third on a wild pitch and Brynn Utter bounced one to first base. ND threw home but could not nab Giglio and Utter raced to second. Gonzalez followed with her RBI single and Favato capped a memorable day with a single to make it 3-0.

McDougall pitched a clean 10th to end it. It was the second title SJV won in extra innings this year, along with its Shore Conference Tournament victory over Donovan Catholic.

“The adrenaline is like so…. uhhhgh!” Gonzalez exclaimed. “And the extra-inning games you can’t even put into words, they’re amazing.”

Somehow, the Lancers have handled that pressure in moving to 25-1.

“We all talk with each other,” Gonzalez said. “We breathe, we pray and that’s just what we do.”

It’s a tense situation for a freshman, and Favato is proud to be a contributor.

“It’s an amazing feeling to know I could be a part of this,” she said. “I just trust in my training and know I work hard and can do anything I put my mind to.”

The starting lineups are introduced before the South Jersey Non-Public A sectional final between Notre Dame and St. John Vianney. Rich Fisher photo 

 While SJV’s kiddie corps moves on, it marks a bitter end for ND’s nucleus of seniors that include Kalyn Rosica, Cara Mazzucco, Alayna Giampolo, Emma Marchese, Ella McColgan and, most notably, Michalak.

The University of Houston-bound hurler will go down as one of Mercer County’s all-time great pitchers, but she would trade that title for a sectional or state championship.

“I went into this game positive with what I had in my inventory, I’m proud of what I put on the field today,” a tearful Michalak said. “It’s so sad to end like that.

“Games like this are only gonna make me stronger,” she continued. “Maybe a year or two down the road I’ll have a game like this in college and I’m gonna win it and it’s gonna go my way. I’ll know what to do in that situation.”

St. John Vianney and Notre Dame exchange post-game high fives after the Lancers victory in the sectional final. Rich Fisher photo 

As for the past four seasons, Michalak said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I really have loved my time with this group. I just wish we could have won one of those championships.”

Michalak finishes her career with a 1.01 ERA and 748 strikeouts.

“She’s one of the best pitchers I’ve ever seen,” Gonzalez said.

And McDougall is the best she has played with, as witnessed by 506 strikeouts in just two seasons.

“I had no idea (about 500),” the pitcher said. “(Lombardi-McDougall) called time to get the ball and I had no idea what was going on. I asked around the team and no one knew what was going on, they kept it a secret. But it felt great getting 500 strikeouts as a sophomore.”

But not as great as winning a sectional title.

“No,” she said. “Not at all.” 





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When Gabby Gonzalez and Madison McDougall were in kindergarten, they would hang out together as Maddie’s grandpa gave Gabby’s sister pitching lessons.

Flash forward 10 years, and as sophomores on Holmdel’s St. John Vianney softball team, they already own one NJSIAA Non-Public A state championship and two South Jersey Non-Public A titles.

The latest sectional title came June 3 when the 2nd-seeded Lancers defeated top-seeded Notre Dame, 3-0, in 10 innings in Lawrenceville.

And it doesn’t surprise the 10th-graders at all.

Madison McDougall (10) and her teammates celebrate the sophomore hurler's 500th career strikeout, which she achieved against Notre Dame Jan. 3. Rich Fisher photo 

“This was our dream from little league and up,” Gonzalez said. “Maddie is an amazing pitcher and when coach Kim (Lombardi-McDougall) invited us to be on this team that’s how we became best friends.”

The coach’s daughter concurred. 

“It feels amazing,” McDougall said. “Me and Gabby had talked about these days ever since we were five or six years old growing up playing travel ball together. We’re ready to take it all the way again.”

The final step comes June 6 at Kean University when SJV meets the winner of the June 4 game between Sparta’s Pope John XXIII and Caldwell’s Mount St. Dominic Academy.

Gonzalez and McDougall played a big part in getting there. McDougall threw a 4-hitter with no walks and 10 strikeouts, including the 500th of her career. Gomez went 3-for-5 with an RBI single to make it 2-0 in the 10th.

It was another heartbreak for Notre Dame (25-2), which fell to SJV 2-1 in last year’s sectional semifinals.

The Irish’s Rylee Michalak matched McDougall through nine innings. During that time, she allowed four hits and three walks while striking out five. She stranded a runner on second in the fifth-through-eighth innings.

McDougall was even more dominant but had some hiccups and left ND runners on second in the sixth-through-eighth.

“I didn’t worry about the runner on second,” McDougall said. “I just kept grinding at the batter who was at the plate.”

Notre Dame team members display the flag in the outfield as the national anthem played prior to the SJ Non-Public A title game with St. John Vianney. Rich Fisher photo 

There was an anxious moment in the sixth. With a runner on second and two outs, ND’s Alayna Giampolo smoked a line drive to left that looked like extra bases. But freshman Mia Favato dove and laid her body out full extension to make a backhand catch an inch off the ground.

“I just saw the ball and was aggressive toward it,” Favato said. “I practice it all the time and I can get after it on any play like that.”

Asked how the ball didn’t pop out, she smiled and said, ‘You just gotta trust in it.”

After nine scoreless innings, SJV’s Nicole Giglio went to second as SJV’s automatic runner, which goes into effect in the 10th inning for softball.

Giglio went to third on a wild pitch and Brynn Utter bounced one to first base. ND threw home but could not nab Giglio and Utter raced to second. Gonzalez followed with her RBI single and Favato capped a memorable day with a single to make it 3-0.

McDougall pitched a clean 10th to end it. It was the second title SJV won in extra innings this year, along with its Shore Conference Tournament victory over Donovan Catholic.

“The adrenaline is like so…. uhhhgh!” Gonzalez exclaimed. “And the extra-inning games you can’t even put into words, they’re amazing.”

Somehow, the Lancers have handled that pressure in moving to 25-1.

“We all talk with each other,” Gonzalez said. “We breathe, we pray and that’s just what we do.”

It’s a tense situation for a freshman, and Favato is proud to be a contributor.

“It’s an amazing feeling to know I could be a part of this,” she said. “I just trust in my training and know I work hard and can do anything I put my mind to.”

The starting lineups are introduced before the South Jersey Non-Public A sectional final between Notre Dame and St. John Vianney. Rich Fisher photo 

 While SJV’s kiddie corps moves on, it marks a bitter end for ND’s nucleus of seniors that include Kalyn Rosica, Cara Mazzucco, Alayna Giampolo, Emma Marchese, Ella McColgan and, most notably, Michalak.

The University of Houston-bound hurler will go down as one of Mercer County’s all-time great pitchers, but she would trade that title for a sectional or state championship.

“I went into this game positive with what I had in my inventory, I’m proud of what I put on the field today,” a tearful Michalak said. “It’s so sad to end like that.

“Games like this are only gonna make me stronger,” she continued. “Maybe a year or two down the road I’ll have a game like this in college and I’m gonna win it and it’s gonna go my way. I’ll know what to do in that situation.”

St. John Vianney and Notre Dame exchange post-game high fives after the Lancers victory in the sectional final. Rich Fisher photo 

As for the past four seasons, Michalak said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I really have loved my time with this group. I just wish we could have won one of those championships.”

Michalak finishes her career with a 1.01 ERA and 748 strikeouts.

“She’s one of the best pitchers I’ve ever seen,” Gonzalez said.

And McDougall is the best she has played with, as witnessed by 506 strikeouts in just two seasons.

“I had no idea (about 500),” the pitcher said. “(Lombardi-McDougall) called time to get the ball and I had no idea what was going on. I asked around the team and no one knew what was going on, they kept it a secret. But it felt great getting 500 strikeouts as a sophomore.”

But not as great as winning a sectional title.

“No,” she said. “Not at all.” 




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