EGG HARBOR CITY — Cedar Creek softball coach Shawn Cohen couldn’t have asked for a better situation in the bottom of the eighth inning of the South Jersey Group 2 championship on Saturday afternoon. The game was tied, 7-7, and the Pirates had their fastest runner at second and one of their best hitters at the plate.

With one out, senior second baseman Abby Gunnels — who earlier in the game collected the 100th hit of her career — blooped a single into right field that plated shortstop Chaneyl Johnson with the winning run, as second-seeded Cedar Creek beat No. 4 Delran, 8-7, in walk-off fashion to capture the sectional crown.

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“It was a little stressful but I knew what I had to do, just a little hit, nothing crazy. I knew my teammates had my back. We had Chanel on second base and she’s crazy fast, so we knew we could count on her. It was awesome getting to first base, turning around and seeing her crossing home plate,” Gunnels said. “This is awesome. We were talking a few days ago about how in eighth grade, since this is a magnet school, we all didn’t really know each other, but we all came here and created a championship team.”

Cedar Creek (22-3) seemed to be taking command early as the Pirates wiped out an early 1-0 deficit with two runs in the bottom of the first and another in the second. Johnson scored the tying run on an error and Gunnels gave the Pirates a 2-1 lead with an RBI infield single. Cedar Creek made it 3-1 with a run in the second on an RBI single down the left-field line by leadoff hitter Olivia Catalina.

But Delran was able to get to freshman pitcher Liz Martin in the fourth, rallying for five runs to take a 6-3 lead. The big blows were a two-run double by Brooke Acker and an RBI single from Cheyenne Jackson. The momentum swung yet again in the fifth, as the Pirates tacked on two runs to tie the game, 6-6. Maddie Hagaman’s RBI double got the rally started and MaKenzie Baggstrom came off the bench to produce a run-scoring single to center.

Delran answered in the top of the seventh, taking a 7-6 lead when pinch runner Riley Ahrens scored on an infield error. Cedar Creek was able to avoid more damage however, as Abby Messina made a diving catch in right to end the inning. The Pirates answered in their half of the seventh, as pinch runner Ava Hammonds scored on an infield error to tie the game at 7 and send it to extra innings.

“Anything can happen and we all believed and had each other’s backs.” Gunnels said. “If someone messes up we know we can pick that person up and get right back into the game.”

“It was a lot of pressure pitching, but I knew my defense behind me had to lock it down. They did a good job toward the end, and I knew our offense would make up for that (deficit),” Martin said. “It was tough, but mentally we’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time and I think we came out ready. We knew we had to fight all the way through.

“I had all faith in Abby,” Martin continued. “She got on base, Chanel scored and it was just the best feeling knowing we had speed at second base and one of our big hitters up. Since preseason, I’ve been saying we have to win for our seniors because they missed out on their junior year. We had to get it done for them this year and that’s been my mentality this whole season.”

Martin did give up 12 hits, but continued to battle through some tough innings to help keep her team in the game, and eventually put the Pirates in position to win it in extra innings.

“I knew Delran wasn’t going to just give us this game, we knew it was going to be a hard-fought game,” she said. “These girls fought through and stayed together as a team. Nobody put their head down. It was an amazing job by these girls and I couldn’t be more proud.

“She’s been killing it physically with throwing a lot of pitches, but even mentally, if she gives up a hit or a run she turns around and says, ‘we’re good.’ She picks me up when I mess up,” Gunnels said of Martin. “She’s very poised. She’s going to be so good in her career. I know if I make a mistake, she’s still going to believe in all of us and she has our back. I love her for that.”

Gunnels said the Pirates have had an all-or-nothing type of mentality since the state playoffs began.

“The whole postseason we’ve been saying, ‘all gas, no brakes.’ We hit the brakes a little bit there when we let them get the lead, but we knew we could come back,” she said. “We believe in us more than anyone else did all season, so we knew we could get the lead back. We missed out on last year so this year’s freshmen and sophomores are all like one big class, and they stepped up big time. We had all the pieces, we just had to put it all together. We have the speed, we have the strength, we have the defense and the pitching. It was great to put it all together.”

What’s next: Cedar Creek vs. Central Jersey Group 2 champion Robbinsville, time, date, location TBD.

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays

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