It’s a phenomenon that not even members of the Lodi Immaculate program can truly explain.
When the calendar reaches late May and early June, Lodi Immaculate turns into a different beast. And, for as long as the Tournament of Champions has been around in its infant phase of three years, the Blue Wolves have proved that the magic is real.
Fifth-seeded Lodi Immaculate, No. 8 in the NJ.com Top 20, found that late-season magic once again, getting some revenge in the process as it defeated fourth-seeded and No. 7 Ramsey, 5-2, in the opening round of the Tournament of Champions Tuesday night at Ivy Hill Park.
Lodi Immaculate, which will now face top-seeded and No. 2 Donovan Catholic in the semifinals at 3 p.m. Wednesday, avenged a loss earlier in the season when the Blue Wolves fell to Ramsey, 2-1 in eight innings, in the semifinal round of the Bergen County Tournament.
“We said when we were coming here that the ToC is a different breed,” Jaden Farhat said. “It’s where we shine. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it’s the field but I think we just come together as a family and realize this is one-and-done. It’s always that way when you get to the state playoffs but this is it. We don’t want to lose. We come out as animals.”
Farhat, who has experienced all three of those postseason runs, played a large role in its latest endeavor, going 3-of-4 with a double and four of the five Blue Wolves runs. Her first hit of the night, a gapper to right-center field, drove in two runs with two outs to tie the game in the third inning while her final hit, a two-run single in the seventh inning, provided the insurance the Blue Wolves wanted heading into the bottom portion of the final inning.
The game started out rocky for Lodi Immaculate as Ramsey pounced with two runs in the first inning. After a hit batter and a single put the first two batters on, Kaitlin Houser drove in the first run on a one-out, RBI single then Bella Sebastian followed with one of her own to take the early lead.
Even with shades of last year’s Tournament of Champions final, where Lodi Immaculate surrendered nine first-inning runs to Steinert, running through their head, the Blue Wolves denied any more offensive opportunities.
Lodi Immaculate pitcher Caylee English allowed two runs and three hits in that opening frame but, following that, gave up just four hits the rest of the way en route to another dominant outing.
“We wanted to set the tempo early and I thought we did that,” Ramsey coach Chris Caserta said. “Another one or two runs would have been nice. But we knew they wouldn’t go away. We didn’t press or anything. Caylee is a really good pitcher and she found her groove. We put the ball in play.
“There were times we could have been a little more aggressive at the plate, but a good pitcher will do that to you and they made nice plays too. We had more opportunities to score and we didn’t cash in.
While it was the upperclassmen, including senior English and junior Farhat, that put in more great outings, it was a freshman that ultimately gave them the lead. With the game tied at two runs apiece in the sixth inning, Maddie Weir knocked in Farhat with a go-ahead RBI double that one-hopped off the fence in right-center field.
Weir, Abby Tabaka (who hit the go-ahead home run in the Lodi Immaculate’s Non-Public B championship game) and Daphne Santos have spearheaded a freshmen class that, thanks to their experiences this year, have looked like season vets.
“With our schedule we’ve played and everything else, I tell them that they’re not freshmen anymore,” Horohonich said. “Through all the scrimmages and games and who we’ve battled, they’ve been more relaxed and they’ve adjusted to everything. Daphne was superb at third, made some big plays. It’s been a nice combination.
“Tomorrow we’ll give it a shot and go after the big dog.”