By Phil Anastasia
TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- Shayla Sweeney has been dreaming about that last pitch for a long time.
"Since forever," the Haddon Heights senior said.
Her long wait ended at 3:05 p.m. on Sunday, when the final pitch of her high school career clinched the Group 1 state championship.
Sweeney struck out eight and junior centerfielder Chelsea Thomas delivered the game's biggest hit in Haddon Heights' 5-3 victory over Saddle Brook in the title game Sunday at Toms River East.
"I'm speechless," Sweeney said. "It's a dream come true."
Haddon Heights (26-3) won its second state title and first since coach Michelle Schlichtig led the Garnets to the Group 2 crown as a star pitcher in 2001.
"That makes it more even more," Sweeney said of Schlichtig's connection to both titles.
Haddon Heights got big hits from Kristen Resh (RBI double) and Mariah Hans (triple, run) to take a 3-0 lead after four innings.
But Saddle Brook battled back to tie the game at 3-3 in the top of the fifth.
"We didn't panic," Sweeney said. "We're a team of fighters. I knew we would fight back."
The Garnets took a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth.
Becky Transue walked and Ali Bastien punched a single to center to start the rally. With two outs, Resh delivered an infield single to load the bases.
Thomas came to the plate with a chance to give her team the lead.
"You live for those opportunities," Thomas said.
She fell behind in the count 1-2 but poked a pop-up over the third baseman's head for a two-run single.
"I was just trying to make contact," Thomas said. "You make contact, good things will happen."
Sweeney took the mound in the top of the seventh determined to finish her career with a flourish.
She got the final out with a strikeout, threw her arms in the air and was mobbed by her teammates.
"We've been working for this for so long," Sweeney said. "To end my career in the state championship, it's overwhelming. It's the best feeling in the world."
Saddle Brook 000 030 0 -- 3 11 1
Haddon Heights 011 102 x -- 5 8 2
WP: Shayla Sweeney. LP: Danielle Archibold.
2B: HH-Kristen Resh; SB-Natalie Alvarez.
3B: HH-Mariah Hans.
Contact Phil Anastasia at panastasia@firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.