Hillsborough softball advances behind Davenport to Group IV title game

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The infielders on the Hillsborough High School softball team congratulate pitcher Sarah Davenport for striking out a Kingsway batter during a game played on June 15 in Woolwich Township. Hillsborough defeated Kingsway 2-1 to advance to the NJSIAA Group IV championship game. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School second baseman Josie Marcinek gets a base hit during a game against Kingsway on June 15 in Woolwich Township. Hillsborough won 2-1 to advance to the NJSIAA Group IV championship game. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School starting pitcher Sarah Davenport delivers a strike to the plate during a game against Kingsway on June 15 in Woolwich Township. Davenport had 13 strikeouts in the contest to help Hillsborough defeat Kingsway 2-1.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School third baseman Carly Quabeck records a base hit during a game against Kingsway on June 15 in Woolwich Township. Quabeck had two hits in the contest.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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The infielders on the Hillsborough High School softball team congratulate pitcher Sarah Davenport for striking out a Kingsway batter during a game played on June 15 in Woolwich Township. Hillsborough defeated Kingsway 2-1 to advance to the NJSIAA Group IV championship game. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School second baseman Josie Marcinek gets a base hit during a game against Kingsway on June 15 in Woolwich Township. Hillsborough won 2-1 to advance to the NJSIAA Group IV championship game. STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School starting pitcher Sarah Davenport delivers a strike to the plate during a game against Kingsway on June 15 in Woolwich Township. Davenport had 13 strikeouts in the contest to help Hillsborough defeat Kingsway 2-1.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Hillsborough High School third baseman Carly Quabeck records a base hit during a game against Kingsway on June 15 in Woolwich Township. Quabeck had two hits in the contest.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

Standing in the circle during the semifinals of the state tournament was something that Hillsborough High School softball team’s star ace Sarah Davenport didn’t think she would be doing when the 2021 season began.

Not having a freshman season due to COVID-19, neither Davenport nor Hillsborough softball Coach Cheryl Iaione thought that she would be having the sophomore campaign she’s had this spring in helping Hillsborough claim the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV title.

Davenport tossed back-to-back complete-game shutouts with 16 strikeouts during the sectional tournament to lead Hillsborough to its first sectional championship in seven years and continued her dominance in the circle on June 15 at Kingsway Regional High School in Woolwich Township in the semifinals of the Group IV Tournament.

With a shot at playing in the Group IV final at stake, Davenport was utterly brilliant, racking up 13 strikeouts and retiring the last 16 batters she faced to power Hillsborough into the state championship game with a 2-1 victory over Kingsway.

“It feels great,” Davenport said about advancing to the state championship game. “I never thought I’d come in and help the team this much, especially being a sophomore and not having a season last year. It’s great. I’m excited and I know the team is, too.”

Davenport now has 314 strikeouts this season. The sophomore has racked up double-digit strikeouts in all but one of her 23 starts this spring, which includes two no-hitters and one perfect game.

“Her consistency is definitely impressive,” Iaione said of Davenport. “Her maturity as a sophomore is something that you never would expect to have.”

Davenport got the run support she needed from her teammates at the plate in the top of the third inning to get a lead and never relinquish it.

It was also heading into the third inning where the Raiders stood looking up at Kingsway, trailing the Lady Dragons 1-0 after a throwing error in the bottom of the second inning plated the first run of the contest.

Senior third baseman Carly Quabeck was responsible for the Hillsborough throwing error and wanted to make up for it with her bat to lead off the third inning.

Quabeck did just that, getting on base with a single to get Hillsborough rolling.

“After making that error in the second inning, I just wanted to put the ball in play and do good for the team,” Quabeck said. “It felt amazing just to help out.”

After freshman Claire Marcinek reached base two batters later with a walk, senior Katie Rygiel stepped to the plate for Hillsborough with two runners on.

Rygiel hit a hot shot to third base that was mishandled by the Kingsway third baseman.

What could have been just one error and Hillsborough having bases loaded with one out, turned into the Raiders scoring two runs to take the lead as the Kingsway third baseman threw the ball away trying to get Rygiel out at first and allowed both Quabeck and Marcinek to come around and score.

“When we got behind 1-0, we didn’t panic and bounced right back to take the lead,” Iaione said. “These kids are resilient. They battle every day.”

A lead now in hand going into the bottom of the third inning, Davenport hunkered down on the mound and didn’t allow Kingsway to get a runner on base the rest of the way.

Davenport only allowed one hit all game and has given up a total of seven hits over her last 47 innings in the circle. The sophomore also hasn’t given up an earned run in her last nine starts.

“I’m really proud of myself and proud of the team,” Davenport said. “It’s crazy doing this as a sophomore and being so new to it. It’s really great.”

Quabeck finished two-for-three at the dish for Hillsborough.

The Raiders will face Livingston High School in the Group IV championship game on June 17 at Seton Hall University.

A victory over Livingston would help Hillsborough claim its first Group IV state championship in program history.

Having no idea what to expect from her Hillsborough squad coming into this season, Iaione said she is very proud of what her team has accomplished as they stand at 21-2 entering the Group IV championship game.

She believes that no matter the result against Livingston, her Hillsborough squad has had a “great run” this spring.

“I have nothing but respect and admiration for my team,” Iaione said. “We’re going to go out there and do our best. There are a lot of teams right now sitting at home wishing they were where we are with a shot at winning a championship.”