NEWARK – They’re a bunch of talented, humble, smart, self-proclaimed goofballs, but the Haddon Heights High School softball team will also be remembered as something else:
The best softball team in the Garden State.
The Garnets earned the moniker and took South Jersey softball to new heights on Friday with a 2-0 victory over Watchung Hills in the Tournament of Champions final at Ivy Hill Park.
Haddon Heights became South Jersey’s first and only TOC titlist, winning the event’s final year’s only championship.
On their way to completing the remarkable playoff run, the Garnets quickly became a favorite among the South Jersey faithful, who took to social media throughout the playoffs to wish the Garnets well.
Haddon Heights head coach Michelle Schlichtig-Hastings was quick to voice her disdain for OCD, but the Garnets’ run changed her mind.
“Now I’m (an OCD fan),” she said. “From day one, I felt this team could achieve it. That’s how much I believed in them.
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After:The legend of Bordi grows; Clark homers twice as Haddon Heights wins state title
Sophomore Gracie Granate recalls the coach charting the team’s course in March, a journey that wouldn’t end until the last day of the season in Newark.
“Even at the start she was talking about big goals for us,” Granate said. “She made us believe in ourselves. We said, we can do it.
While much of the attention was centered on the circle, where freshman phenom Sophia Bordi hosted one of the most dominating seasons by a pitch in New Jersey history, the Garnets were more than a simple one-player team.
Granate became a productive cleanup hitter for the Garnets. After Bordi collected Heights’ first hit with a double in the fourth, Granate doubled in the first inning.
Junior Lydia Trailes provided a huge run of insurance a frame later when she netted a brace into the gap at center right for a 2-0 lead.
Although not found in the boxscore, freshman receiver Haley Hawkins had one of the biggest plays of the game. After Watchung Hills (27-2) had a single to start the game, a Bordi pitch came to the backstop and the Warriors runner attempted to take extra base but was ejected at third. The next batter singled, which would have given Watchung Hills the lead.
“It’s probably the game of the game,” Schlichtig-Hastings said. “At that place, coming out with the energy that they had, (Hawkins) made a play that took a lot of that energy away.”
As with most of his starts this spring, a run was basically all Bordi needed in the game which lasted less than 70 minutes.
The right-hander finished one of the greatest all-time playoff series in state softball history. In nine postseason starts (62 innings), Bordi allowed just three runs on 24 hits with 135 strikeouts and six walks
On Friday, Bordi had three hits with 13 strikeouts, bringing his total for the season to an impressive 307.
It was only fitting that Bordi would pull out the last batter, sparking a wild celebration that would also continue later when the Garnets got home.
“I definitely would have believed it,” Bordi said when asked if she thought this team could go No. 1 in the state heading into the season.
“We’ve been fixed in our mindset all season. We arrive calm and play the game very well, this positive thought has really helped us.
“I was a little nervous at first because I knew a lot of people would be watching, but after the first run I was fine.”
If Bordi had any jitters in the title match, she cheated on everyone, including her drum mate.
“She’s never nervous, I’ll never understand that,” Hawkins said.
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And through all the incredible numbers Bordi produced in his early school days, there was only one number that worried him in the end.
“We won all three of our league games (South Jersey Group 2, State Group 2 and TOC),” she said.
Tom McGurk is a regional sports reporter for the Courier-Post, the Daily Journal and the Burlington County Times, covering South Jersey sports for over 30 years. If you have a sports story to tell, contact him at (856) 486-2420 or email [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @McGurkSports. Help support local journalism with a digital subscription.