Immaculate Heart Academy coach Anthony Larezza was talking about his star pitcher StephThomas, after another record-breaking performance as IHA continued its quest toward a state championship.
For the record, Thomas (AKA Affirmed) led her team to a 5-0 win over Paramus Catholic in the semifinals of the NJSIAA, North, Non-Public A tournament. IHA will face the winner of Friday’s Mount St. Dominic-DePaul game, for the championship next Tuesday, most likely at Ivy Hill Park in Newark.
The shutout was Affirmed’s 68th, setting a new state record. The old mark (of 67, as Larezza reminded reporters afterward) had held for nine years, since Kristen Schindler of Caldwell established it. The win was also Thomas’ 112th, tying Schindler for the state’s all time record for career victories.
Larezza hopes that Schindler will be able to attend an IHA game before the season ends.
“Kristen was a great pitcher,” said Larezza, who remembers her well. Schindler’s Caldwell team edged Montclair Kimberley in the 2004 Essex County final, 3-2. Larezza was Montclair Kimberley’s coach that season.
When told that Thomas had passed Schindler’s mark for shutouts, Caldwell coach Mike Teshkoyan, who has been the team’s head coach for 28 seasons, was very gracious.
“Steph is a great pitcher, on a great team,” said Teshkoyan. “It (the record) is well deserved.”
Affirmed will have an opportunity to break Schindler’s win record on Saturday, when IHA takes on top-seeded Indian Hills in a much-anticipated game, for the Bergen County Tournament title. Thomas will take a 112-5 career mark into Saturday’s contest.
“Steph does so many things well,” said Larezza. “And it’s not just pitching. She’s a tremendous offensive player. She fields her position very well, too. Sometimes, you see her pitch and think she’s not the hardest throwing pitcher, but she has tremendous control, a good riser and excellent movement.”
Thomas kept a very good Paramus Catholic team off balance throughout the game. She gave up just one hit while striking out nine and walking none. At the plate, IHA’s leadoff hitter was 2-for-3, including a triple. She was the catalyst to a 3-run third inning after 2 1/2 scoreless innings.
“Paramus Catholic is a very good team,” said Larezza. “They’re very athletic and they swung the bats. This was a good win for us. Nothing came easy.”
Thomas appreciated the post-game ceremony, where she received flowers for her latest performance. But she admitted that winning a county and ultimately, a state championship, is the only for she and her teammates.
IHA has a chance to finish as the state’s top-ranked team for a second time during Thomas’ career (it won it all in 2012) and third time since 2009. While winning a pair of state championships and finishing number one, last year’s team was also outstanding before losing in the state final.
“These are the games you play for,” Larezza said. “It’s when the trophies come out. It’s why you play and do all this work. Steph knows that. She’s a leader, she’s been there before and we’re hoping for the opportunity to win it all again. We know it won’t be easy. We’ll be playing some very good teams in the next couple of days.”
In the meantime, congratulations to Affirmed on another milestone. She’s a truly great player, talented, yet humble, determined, yet reserved.