With an absolutely ridiculous state tournament record of 44-4 over the last nine years, it’s understandable how the Robbinsville High School softball team often seemed to be on cruise control Thursday in its Central Jersey Group III semifinal.
Although it was tied in the fifth inning, there was no sense of panic or urgency. Rather, Robbinsville just seemed to go about its business with the inner confidence somehow things would all work out in the end.
Sure enough, in a game in which it had only eight hits, Robbinsville put six of them together in a row in the fifth ininng and the result ended up being a comfortable 7-1 victory over South Plainfield (20-6).
The two-time defending Group II state champion and a winner of four state titles in eight years, Robbinsville (23-4) will now attempt to win an incredible eighth sectional championship in nine years when it travels to top-seeded Bordentown on Tuesday.
For much of the game the Middlesex County team hung right with the Ravens. On the very first pitch of the game, Cameron Marks blasted a double to center field off freshman Shea Krebs and eventually came home on a sac fly by Gillian Holoboski.
After a rain delay of over an hour in the bottom of the first, Robbinsville tied the game on a single by Olivia Moser after Shea Walsh had singled right before the heavens opened up.
At this point it looked like the teams might be about to slug it out, but there was no more scoring until the bottom of the fifth.
For her part, Krebs really settled and was able to work her way out of any jams. Krebs had only two strikeouts, but she also gave up just five hits and was able to hold the dangerous Holoboski hitless.
“I just try to stay calm,” said Krebs when asked what it’s like getting the ball as a freshman for a program with such high expectations. “I don’t really get that nervous because I know I have a great team behind me.”
Many of Robbinsville’s early bats in this game against Holoboski can best be described as listless, but suddenly all of that changed.
After a ground out, Alexa Klepper got the Ravens going with a double and advanced to third on a single by Ashley Veisz. More known for her defensive work at second than her hitting, No. 9 batter Alyssa Whitman then stroked the game-winning hit with a single.
From there, Chelsea Manto collected her 203rd career hit with a hard RBI single and Walsh picked up career hit 176 with a run-scoring single to right.
Next up was Devon Witt, who after striking out in her first two at bats, laced a two-run double to deep center field to become the latest Robbinsville player to join the 100-hit club.
Just like that a competitive game had been blown wide open thanks to the six straight hits.
“It was a good game, but they got the hits when they needed to and we did not,” said South Plainfield coach Don Panzarella, who became New Jersey’s all-time winningest coach last year when he recorded his 744th career win. “You know when you play a good team like that they are eventually going to score some runs.”
In addition to the pitching of Krebs, another real plus was Robbinsville got two nice catches in right field by Brynn Hopkins, and two hits at the bottom of the order from Veisz and Whitman. Those two combined to produce the final run in the sixth when Veisz doubled to left and Whitman singled her in.
It should all make for an interesting final on Tuesday against a Bordentown team that is just itching to beat one of the most storied programs in New Jersey softball history despite the fact Robbinsville has only been in existence for 11 years.
South Plainfield (20-6) 100 000 0 – 1 3 0
Robbinsville (23-4) 100 051 x – 7 10 2
WP-Krebs. LP-Holoboski. 2B-Marks (SP), Klepper (R), Witt (R), Veisz (R). RBIs: SP-Holoboski. R-Manto, Walsh, Witt 2, Moser, Whitman 2.