Monday, May 23, 2022

Cherokee wins RV Elite Tournament behind Friel’s pitching

Junior pitcher named tournament MVP after collecting 43 strikeouts in three games

Special to South Jersey Sports Weekly: The Cherokee softball team won the RV Elite Tournament in early April, thanks to the MVP performance of junior pitcher Sammie Friel, who struck out 43 batters after pitching every inning across the three games for the Chiefs.

After missing out on her freshman season two years ago due to COVID, Sammie Friel entered her sophomore season at Cherokee as the Chiefs’ top starting pitcher. 

The hard-throwing sophomore pitched virtually every possible inning for the Chiefs through the team’s first 13 games of the 2020-’21 season — throwing 72.2 of the 77 total innings pitched — to help lead Cherokee to a 9-4 start on the year.

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But shoulder soreness took nearly the entire second half of the season for Cherokee’s top starting pitcher, causing her to sit out six straight games before returning to pitch a complete game against Egg Harbor in the first round of the South Jersey Group 4 sectional tournament. 

Despite the 9-4 start, the Chiefs finished the season 9-11, losing every game of the season following Friel’s injury. Looking back, the junior said it was obviously tough to watch the season slip away.

“It was frustrating knowing that we probably could’ve gone really far if it weren’t for my shoulder injury,” Friel said. “I couldn’t help my team at all or participate, so that was frustrating.”

Through the team’s first six games of the current season, it’s safe to say both Friel and Cherokee as a whole have picked up right where they left off before the pitcher’s time off late last season. 

The Chiefs are 5-1 through their first six games of the 2021-’22 season and recently won the RV Elite Tournament, where Friel was named MVP after pitching complete games in all three matchups. She racked up 43 strikeouts in the wins over South Brunswick, Buena and Rancocas Valley. 

What her team was able to pull off, head coach Mary Madgey said, was a weekend she’ll always remember. 

“If I’m being honest, that was probably one of the proudest moments I’ve had as a varsity coach,“ Madgey said. “I was so happy to watch them all come together and get wins against three really quality programs. Coming into this season, I was just looking for the group we have to build off of what we were able to do last year during that first half of the season. 

“I’m excited about the start we’ve been able to get ourselves off to now,” the coach added.

The tournament win was, of course, a complete team victory. While Friel pitched all 22 innings for Cherokee in the three games, several notable performances at the plate helped secure wins for the Chiefs. 

Senior Maddie Donnelly hit a home run and drove in three runs in the first-round win over South Brunswick, while junior Halina Collins went four for four at the plate, hitting a home run of her own while driving in four total runs in the final round of the tournament. Junior Kali Baker hit a solo home run as well. 

After losing the opportunity to partake in such tournaments last year because of the pandemic, Friel said she and the rest of the team wanted to take advantage of its first opportunity to play deep into a tournament. 

“It was a bit tiring at times,” Friel said. “We had two games in one day, so some of those innings were really tough to fight through, but my defense and lineup helped motivate me to keep going and finish each inning I was out there.

“We didn’t really get the chance to play in tournaments like this last season, so getting the opportunity was a great experience for us.” 

Donnelly, who collected six hits in her 11 at-bats throughout the tournament, also leads the team in RBIs and extra-base hits for the team’s first six games of the season. Serving as one of the few seniors on the team with a large junior class, Donnelly said her goal this past offseason was to continue evolving as a hitter and enjoy her last high-school season.

“Our team has so much talent and potential, so I felt great coming into the season with the girls we had on the team,” Donnelly said. “I wanted to make sure I kept producing runs and getting on base to help our team in the middle of the lineup … It’s been a weird last two years or so for us seniors, so I was looking forward to us getting these kinds of opportunities this season while playing with what’s an amazing team.

“It’s definitely made my senior season special,” she added.

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