Christine Levering is headed to college to play soccer, but it’s not surprising she will look back on her days at Robbinsville High School with fond softball memories.
“Softball is a sport I’ve always loved playing, and this softball team has always been one of my favorite teams to be on because we work hard, but we also all enjoy it as well,” said the sure-handed second baseman. “I am definitely going to miss playing high school softball, and softball in general.”
It’s not hard to see why.
Levering was one of three seniors on the roster this year, and on June 9, the Ravens completed one of the greatest runs in Colonial Valley Conference history by winning their second state championship in three years. Robbinsville defeated Hanover Park, 3-1, spurred by senior pitcher Lauren Fischer’s tiebreaking home run in the bottom of the sixth inning.
In between state crowns in 2011 and this season, Robbinsville reached the Group II championship game in 2012 and lost by one run. It was also in two Mercer County Tournament finals, winning one of them.
The other two graduates include Fischer, one of the greatest all-around players in Mercer County history as witnessed by her pitching and hitting skills, and Becca Freeman, the county’s dominant catcher during her four seasons of varsity. All three athletes also belonged to the best team in Robbinsville Little League history, the 2008 12-year-old softball all-star squad that advanced to the national championship in Oregon.
Fischer’s career was the stuff movies are made of, and she ended it in storybook fashion by hitting that title-winning home run against Hanover Park. She also pitched a four-hitter for one final high school gem.
The Seton Hall-bound hurler said that’s the script she would have written had a producer given her the job.
The championship, that is. The stuff she did was just part of it all.
“I’m a very goal-oriented person, and I want to be the absolute best all the time at everything, so obviously winning a state championship would be in that script for me,” she said. “Some people never get to play in one state final, I’ve gotten to play in three and win two.
“I’m so fortunate that I have the talent with me at Robbinsville; and the support. Overlooking my whole high school career, it had been an incredible experience on and off the field.”
Robbinsville ended the season at 26-2 after going undefeated in its first championship year. Other key contributors this season included junior Leanna Gearhart, sophomores Morgan Psiuk, Hannah Olshevski, Megan Hevey and Gabby Manto and freshman Felicia Schumacher. But the backbone of the dynasty was the three seniors.
“I absolutely love those girls,” coach Christine Cabarle said. “I have a little bit of a different relationship with each of them. They will always have a special place in my heart.”
And in each other’s hearts as well.
“Lauren, Becca and I have played together for so long on so many different teams, so we all have such a strong bond,” Levering said. “I also think we showed how much we wanted to win the state title to end our season. And the underclassman stepped up to help us achieve that goal, which I’m very thankful for.”
The season was in jeopardy of being unfulfilled after the top-seeded Ravens were upset by Nottingham in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals. Coupled with losses in last year’s MCT and state finals, the Ravens needed this year’s state title to put the stamp on their greatness and prove to doubters that 2011 was no fluke.
“I think losing in MCTs this year was probably the best thing that could have happened,” Cabarle said. “It showed the girls how easy it is to let it all slip away. You can’t just show up to a game and have your job end there. You have to win every inning.”
There was also the issue of trying to bounce back from last year’s state loss.
“I’m a very big believer in everything happens for a reason, and I do not think that it was meant to be last year,” Fischer said. “This year was a whole new year, and by the end of the season, all I wanted was to win states along with all the other seniors and I’m so happy that we got to accomplish it together.”
“No matter the outcome of last year, the seniors, especially Becca and Fish, were on an unstoppable mission this year,” Cabarle added. “You could see it in everything they did.”
Robbinsville was a buzzsaw in the states, rolling to six wins by a combined score of 32-4. They weren’t all easy, however, as the Ravens topped Johnson 3-2 in the Central Jersey Group II semifinals and edged Raritan 1-0 in the sectional championship game.
The state final was tense, as it was 1-1 entering the bottom of the sixth. But Fischer was feeling psychic about the final at-bat of her high school career.
“That was crazy!” she said of the homer. “I honestly just had a feeling it was going to happen and so many people said they did, too. As soon as I hit it I knew it was gone, and I don’t think I’ve ever ran around the bases that fast in my entire life.
“It was the best feeling ever and the best last at-bat I could ever imagine.”
With the title in hand, it was a little different from the first one. That year the core of the Ravens were sophomores and kind of snuck up on people. This year, expectations were higher.
Cabarle just wanted to enjoy them both.
“I don’t feel comfortable comparing the two titles,” the coach said. “They are each special and a great achievement by both teams. I am proud of both teams and equally proud of both titles.”
Levering felt there was a little more urgency to this one.
“Because it is my senior year, it made me realize that this is it if we lose,” she said. “That really made us step up our game to get that title.”
Fischer agrees with her coach. Although the scenarios were different for both, the outcome was sheer ecstasy.
“Sophomore year, we were the underdogs and no one even knew who we were,” she said. “It was fun being the underdogs and beating one of the best teams.
“This year was very special being that it was my last year. It was very difficult to have my last at bat and throw my last pitch in a Raven uniform but I’m so happy with the way it ended. Both of them were equally as special in different ways.”
As Levering, Fischer and Freeman move on to college, they will still embrace the values learned playing for such a successful program.
“I definitely learn from losing along with winning because you really have to work hard to win those important games,” Levering said. “Coach Cabarle taught us so much about motivation, dedication, sacrifice and the will to win; and that all those things will pay off in the end if you want it bad enough.”
“From freshman year to senior year, I have not only learned a lot about softball but more about being a teammate and a leader,” Fischer said. “I loved the team this year to death. We had an amazing year on and off the field together and that’s what I’m going to remember in 20 years. It’s not going to be the individual successes; it’s going to be what the team has accomplished and all the little things along the way.
“Going to school (the day) after winning was so bittersweet. Every time we would see one another we would just smile and hug and laugh because we were all just so happy. This team was truly a family, and I will never forget how special this season was.”
“Fish” is also looking forward to stopping by next season.
“I cannot wait to come back to support all the girls in years to come, and I know that they will do amazing things,” she said.
Speaking of next year, that was something Cabarle did not want to concern herself with after such a big moment. And yet the questions came: how will things be without Fischer and Freeman?
“I’m disappointed by how much the newspaper stories focused on next year,” the coach said. “That isn’t my style. I want the girls to live in the moment and enjoy what they have right now.
“There is no guarantee in tomorrow like there is in the current moment. To focus on next year, at this time, takes something away from what the girls right now have achieved.”
And that would be taking away from something quite impressive. Not just this year, but the last three.