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Steinert zaps Lodi Immaculate in Softball Tournament of Champions Final

Kaylee Whittaker tosses a gem in 9-0 Spartans victory.

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Steinert (26-6) Head Coach Jean Ruppert said afterwards she felt excited about the team when they were warming up in the pre-game of the NJSIAA Softball Tournament of Champions Final against Lodi Immaculate(22-8) at Ivy Hill Park on the campus of Seton Hall University on Friday night.

“They are on it and not too tired and want to get this done,” she said of her thoughts.

The Spartans far surpassed Ruppert’s expectations, blasting out of the gates in the first inning tallying nine runs and seven hits off Lodi Immaculate starting pitcher Caylee English. Steinert starter Kaylee Whittaker contributed immediately off the bat, belting an RBI single into center field. Shortstop Cora Bridges followed, hammering a run producing double into the left center gap.

Catcher Alex Haley increased the advantage, lacing a two-run single into left center. With runners on first and second, left fielder Megan Brugnoli dropped down a perfect squeeze bunt in front of home plate. Blue Wolves catcher Angela Lignelli scooped up the ball and attempted to get the lead runner at third but her throw pulled third baseman Kayla Roberts off the bag.

With the bases packed and still one out, second baseman Nicole Cerasi unloaded a bases-clearing triple over Lodi Immaculate centerfielder Elizabeth Slovak. Having batted around, Spartans centerfielder Dara Kelly stroked her second hit of the inning. With runners at second and third, third baseman Carli Backlund capped off the scoring roping a double into right field as two more runs came across making it 9-0.

“Our story all season when someone gets it rolling and we get another and all of a sudden they start hitting and they have so much confidence,” Ruppert said. “In their defense and behind Kaylee that once they get a few out there they are going to be okay.”

Staked to a comfortable lead early on, Whittaker easily navigated through the Blue Wolves lineup. By the fifth allowing just one hit, Whittaker struck out including the side upping her strikeout total to nine. At the plate Whittaker ended up a perfect 3-for-3.

“I had no doubt in my team, they came out ready and knew it would be a tough fight and jumped out to an early lead which we did,” said Whittaker. “Just a switch, hitting is contagious and once we got those first few, we knew it was rolling. It’s just trusting them, I know I can put the ball where they can hit it and I trust my defense to make the plays behind me.”

Entering the seventh with 12 strikeouts and three outs away from a championship victory, Whittaker displayed no signs of fatigue closing it out in convincing fashion by fanning the side in order, setting a wild and jubilant celebration off at the pitcher’s mound.

“Amazing, we saw signs of this when she was a freshman, last year she got the ball a lot more and little more confident and hit her spots,” Ruppert said of Whittaker’s pitching performance. “This year a total leader, she did it on and off the field, leading the girls’, and this year we added her to the lineup and hit the ball really well. She has worked really hard and deserves everything she has gotten to this point.”

“It’s huge, we always tried to be successful, try to play good softball, winning is contagious and more they get here they understand how much it can be,” said continued. “It’s pressure filled but fun. Fun to do things with your teammates, all complain about bus rides but fun, singing on the bus. The opportunity to come into these situations and be successful.”

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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