Southern, Pinelands Softball Seniors Have One Last Hurrah Together

By DAVID BIGGY | May 29, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Southern senior second baseman Christina D’Amodio throws to first base in an attempt to complete a double play during the seventh inning of the Rams’ 8-2 win over Pinelands on May 21.

Stafford Township — For Southern Regional softball coach Jamie Bernaldo, coaching the last game of her eight seniors’ high school careers on May 21 was hard enough. But it was a tad more difficult, from an emotional sense, considering Pinelands Regional was on the other side of the field and her niece, Ally Vezos, not only was playing her last game, but also pitching against the Rams.

Still, the goal was to win the game as Southern sought to close out its record-breaking season with a 21st victory.

“Ally wouldn’t have wanted us to go soft on her because she’s not that kind of kid,” said Bernaldo, whose Rams ended up scoring an 8-2 win to finish off their 21-7 season. “But it was emotional. The fact I got to coach Ally for her entire life is awesome. Not many coaches get the chance to coach their niece for that long.”

As one of the coaches for the South Jersey Diamond Divas during the summer, Bernaldo was in the unique position of having coached six of the 10 seniors playing in their final game at the Doc Cramer Sports Complex in Manahawkin for at least four years, and two of them since they were about 6 years old – the other being Southern’s Emily Thompson.

“It was great. We had a great atmosphere, with us having this one last game together,” said Thompson, who’s off to Stockton University in the fall. “It’s sad. And, of course, I’m going to go play in college, but it’s not going to be the same. I’ve known most of these girls for six years and Ally for 12.”

The contest started with both teams scoring a pair of runs in the first inning. But by the bottom of the fourth, the Rams had gone ahead, 5-2, when Thompson drilled a two-run triple to center field, and they didn’t look back from there, adding a run in the sixth when Thompson scored classmate Jackie Herrera on a sacrifice fly. Two more in the seventh on an RBI double to left by senior catcher Taylor Bass, scoring classmate Colleen Camburn, who had singled to lead off, and an RBI groundout from Herrera.

Between run-scoring spurts, Southern came up with a few big plays in the field to thwart potential Pinelands rallies. In the third inning, senior left fielder Chrissy Rinaldi ran down a bomb of a fly ball by Pinelands senior catcher Teresa Hudson. Later in the at-bat, Thompson threw behind Wildcat freshman Jesse Cheney, who had made a wide turn at third base on a single by Vezos, to toss her out.

In the fifth, senior second baseman Christina D’Amodio made a diving, backhanded grab on a hard grounder up the middle by Cheney, then flipped the ball from her knees to Thompson for a force-out at second. In the sixth, Bass made a nice running grab of a short popup in front of home plate.

And, of course, there was Tatiyana Ford, pitching in the final game of her career. After giving up the two runs in the first, Ford bore down and faced only four batters in an inning three more times – giving up a single to Vezos in the third and another single to Pinelands freshman Kayla Weber in the seventh, while Cheney reached on an error in the fifth.

Senior first baseman Keeley Himmelreich had 10 putouts at first base, including the one that wrapped up the eight Southern seniors’ careers in the seventh, when D’Amodio calmly fielded a grounder off the bat of Jordan Leeds and tossed to Himmelreich for the final out in the top of the seventh.

“This has all been one heart-moving experience,” D’Amodio said. “We’ve put a lot of hard work and effort into our softball careers. It’s been amazing. You play each year, not realizing the end is going to come so fast. We’ve been playing during school, outside of school, practicing in the offseasons. It just went by really fast. And today, it felt like a real game, but it felt like a fun thing, too. It was good to have the family on the field for one last hurrah.”

Obviously, Vezos would have liked to end her career with a win, but she nonetheless was glad to conclude her solid four-year stint on the same field with familiar faces.

“This is always an important game, but it was great to be around everybody I’ve grown up with,” said Vezos, whose big moments have included being a part of the first Pinelands team to win a state sectional championship and delivering an RBI sacrifice bunt to help the Wildcats beat Jackson Liberty for a Shore Conference Class B South title. “Getting to play with all the girls I’ve grown up with, it couldn’t have been better. My career has been unbelievable. Winning a state championship, it was like no other feeling.”

Hudson had a hard time finding the words to describe the past four years.

“Tonight was very special. We had everyone here, with our families, for one last time, knowing how much we’ve been through together,” she said. “From freshman year to now, it’s been such a journey. For Ally and me, we’ve been part of so many big moments. The accomplishments we’ve had have created a lot of amazing memories. There are no words to express how much these last four years have meant to me.”

Of course, for many of the seniors’ big moments on both squads, Bernaldo has been right there with them. She was Pinelands’ assistant for Vezos’ and Hudson’s first two years, and has spent the last two as head coach at Southern, challenging the eight seniors graduating the program to set the bar higher for future generations – 21 wins in a season is a school record, after all.

“The biggest thing that sets all of them apart is their love for the game and their ability to value a team. They have an appreciation for the people in their lives and opportunities that have been given to them,” Bernaldo said. “They’re just awesome – as women, not just as softball players.”

— David Biggy

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