Softball: Sacred Heart's Last Lions set for state finals


By Phil Anastasia

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Lindsay Dwyer says there will be "80-some years" of history on the backs of the Sacred Heart High School softball players as they take the field in Saturday's state championship game.

She says it will feel like wings.

"Honestly, we're honored," said Dwyer, a senior left-fielder for the last team to wear those red and blue uniforms.

The Last Lions likely held their Last Practice on Thursday, given the weather forecast for Friday. That followed fast on their Last Home Game, Last Senior Night, Last This, Last That.

"All season, we've been doing Last Something," Sacred Heart coach Les Olson said before practice at the team's home field in Cunningham Park in Vineland. "Somehow, these girls have stayed focused."

Sacred Heart will close its doors for the last time on June 30. The last senior class graduated on Monday. The last day of classes for the underclassmen will be June 14.

On Saturday, the softball team will play the last sporting event in the history of the little Catholic school on East Avenue in Vineland: The Non-Public B state championship game against Immaculate Conception of Lodi at 2:30 p.m. at Toms River East High School.

"It hasn't really set in," senior second baseman Samantha Caterina said. "The worst part is just thinking that we'll have nothing to come back to."

School closings and parish closings and mergers and name changes are business as usual for the Diocese of Camden and lots of other Catholic dioceses around the country in 2013.

It hits home with a lot of folks when a high school shuts down, when 86 years of tradition is boxed up like out-of-date textbooks in the corner of the basement.

Sacred Heart never was a sports powerhouse, but the Lions made their mark in both Cape-Atlantic League competition and in the state association's smaller Non-Public classification.

Saturday's state championship game will signal the end of the long sweep of Sacred Heart sports history, with its share of magical moments:
Like legendary boys' basketball coach Jim Mogan's great teams in the 1970s with the sensational Charlie Kates pounding the offensive glass . . .

Like the baseball program that captured the school's first state title in 1974, added three more to the trophy case and won the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic in 2008 . . .

Like the girls' basketball program that won a pair of state crowns in the mid-2000s and featured the dynamic duo of Adrienne Rochetti and Ikea Witt . . .

Like Matt Bik's unforgettable goal for the boys' soccer team in a 1-0 victory in the state final on a frigid November night at the College of New Jersey in 2008 . . .

Sacred Heart softball made history in 2012, winning the state title behind senior Rachael Gavigan.

"Every team that wins a championship says the same thing, 'We're going to do it again next year,'" Olson said. "These girls were determined to do it.  But when the announcement (of the school closing) was made in March, that changed everything."

The Last Lions are a young team, with just two seniors in Dwyer and Caterina. The rest of the players, like junior pitcher Rosie LaGrotta, who holds the school record for career victories with 65, will scatter next season.

Some will attend public schools such as Vineland or Millville. Some will attend parochial schools such as Paul VI and St. Joseph of Hammonton.
None of them will forget their last season in Sacred Heart uniforms, when they "locked arms," according to Dwyer.

When they exceed their coach's expectations and won 31 of their first 34 games and defended their South Jersey Non-Public B title and advanced to the state final.

When they were young athletes raging at the dying of the light and keeping alive a softball season even as their school counted down its final days.

"Everyone is rooting for us to get that one last jab in," Dwyer said. "Saying, "We're Sacred Heart, we were here, we are on the map and we do deserve to be be remembered.'"

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