PHILADELPHIA – A riveting Catholic League softball season has come down to eight survivors following Monday afternoon’s play-in games.
If seventh-seed John W. Hallahan’s 5-2 victory over visiting 10th-seed Archbishop Carroll exemplifies what’s in store over the next nine days, better grab your antacids.
“We had a lot of confidence knowing that we beat them before,” said Hallahan sophomore third baseman Nina Rowan. “Then again, there was a lot of pressure on us because we lost to them in the playoffs (last year) even though we beat them before, so we still knew we had to come out and try out best.”
Thanks to freshman first baseman Paris Balilonis’ fourth-inning double that scored speedy freshman Hallee Mawhinney (pinch running for senior pitcher Maddy McBride, who had walked) all the way from first, the contest was tied at 2-2 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning.
With two outs and all signs pointing to a palm-sweating seventh frame, Balilonis roped a single, her third hit of the game. After a walk to sophomore catcher Jules Kuneck, sophomore designated hitter Nina Sulimay delivered the most important hit of her young career, a single that scored Balilonis with the go-ahead run and sent hustling senior pinch runner Xandy Stoffere to third base. Sulimay had also knocked in Hallahan’s first run, a double to deep center with one out in the second inning that scored Balilonis, who had led off with a double.
“I felt a lot of adrenaline,” said Sulimay. “I felt pressure. There were two outs.”
Rowan followed with an immense two-run single. After Stoffere crossed with the fourth run, Hallahan third-base coach Jen Richard smartly sent a streaking Sulimay all the way around the bases, and Carroll was unable to cut her down at the plate.
Suddenly, Hallahan had a 5-2 lead and was three outs away from avenging last year’s 4-2, first-round loss at Carroll.
“I’ve been in a slump, but I always get stuck with two outs up to bat and I had a feeling I was going to get a hit,” said Rowan. “I know I needed something to happen for my team and it just happened. It was such a good experience.”
On the mound, the always tenacious McBride struggled with her command. She walked the leadoff hitter five straight innings, including the seventh. McBride, however, was able to settle down when it counted most.
Although she was tagged with two runs on a two-run double by freshman Julia DiSands in the third that gave Carroll a 2-1 lead, McBride tossed key pitches to avoid potential big innings in the first and fifth. In both situations, the Patriots had runners on second and third with one out and the middle of their order batting. In both situations, however, a gritty McBride used a strikeout and an easy pop out to avoid disaster.
“Not one of my better games, but my defense really bailed me out,” said McBride. “It was a great team win. So many people helped by making great plays or getting key hits. Carroll played hard and they’re a really good team. When we got the last out, it was a relief.”
Hallahan’s defense indeed contributed mightily. Junior shortstop Emma Stokes made a brilliant over-the-shoulder catch to end the second. Balilonis stretched out to snare a line drive in the seventh. Kuneck caught a ball that ricocheted off Rowan’s glove at third for the first out of the fourth.
With a runner on second and one out in the seventh, Carroll senior Claire Boylan (on base four times) singled to center field. Freshman Erin Boyle was inexplicably waived around third toward home, but an un-fooled Hallahan made the Patriots play when sophomore centerfielder Grace Scally fired to Stokes, who then relayed a strike to Kuneck for the second out. One whiff later, the game was over.
**Up next in the quarterfinals on Wednesday afternoon is defending Catholic League champion Bonner-Prendergast.
“They’re great and will definitely be a huge challenge,” said McBride. “We have to be at our best. We need to play loose because we don’t have anything to lose.”
Bonner-Prendergast standout senior pitcher Meghan Sullivan is not taking Hallahan, a team it defeated, 4-2, on April 12, lightly.
“I believe we will come out very strong,” said Sullivan. “Our first game was early in our season. We didn’t see that kind of pitching. Now we are gelling at the perfect time. No matter what happened last game, we have to bring it on Wednesday. Knowing our team, we will do just that.”
The other quarterfinals – all on Wednesday – feature top-seed Archbishop Ryan (11-1) against visiting eighth-seed Cardinal O’Hara. The Ragdolls have won seven straight, including an 11-0 win over visiting O’Hara on April 24. In their season finale, outstanding pitching by freshman Dana Bell and a three-run double by classmate Lauren Hagy lifted the Ragdolls to a 5-2, regular-season-championship win over Bonner-Prendergast.
“I think it does make a difference when preparing for the game, giving us some confidence,” said Bell. “But when my team and I step out on the field, it doesn’t matter who we are playing or what their record is. We play like it is the last game we will ever play.”
Meanwhile, the Lions were among three teams – Hallahan and Conwell-Egan were the other two – in a three-way tie for sixth.
Tiebreakers necessitated that O’Hara play ninth-seed Little Flower in the first round, which turned out to be a 6-1 success.
Third-seed Lansdale Catholic will face sixth-seed Conwell-Egan. The two squads met in the season opener on March 27, a 7-6 Lansdale Catholic victory in nine innings.
“I don’t think that beating Conwell-Egan earlier in the season makes a difference because we beat them by an overthrow to the catcher,” said LC sophomore pitcher/third baseman Mary Picozzi. “It was a close game the whole way. They can and will always come out ready to play, so beating them before doesn’t make a difference. We’ll just need to come out prepared and ready to play.”
Like Picozzi, LC senior Lauren Crim respects her opponent.
“They are a tough team and it is always a close game,” said Crim. “Emotions are high and we are so ready to come out hitting the ball like we can. We are excited to see how well we can perform.”
C-E coach Sandy Hart was pleased that her Eagles upended both Archbishop Wood and Archbishop Carroll down the stretch. Conwell-Egan’s 10-5 win over Archbishop Wood on May 7 broke the aforementioned three-way tie for sixth because it was the best win among common opponents based on the final regular-season standings.
“We have a young group, but are they fighters,” said Hart. “Fatigue sets in this time of year. Mental toughness gets you through it. The standards have not changed here. It’s tough to compete against big 5A and 6A schools, but we love the challenge.”
Emily Wang, a Conwell-Egan senior third baseman, remembers the game against Lansdale Catholic.
“Those nine innings were definitely a good fight from both teams,” said Wang. “I think we gained a lot of experience and we are prepared to come with clear heads and play hard for our first playoff game.
“Already having a loss against Lansdale is not getting to our heads because we know if we play to win and give all of the hard work and dedication that we put into each practice, we can come out on top this time.”
When fifth-seed St. Hubert’s meets fourth-seed host Archbishop Wood, the Bambies will need to erase a 9-2 loss to the Vikings April 12 on their home field.
A 2-0 upset of Lansdale Catholic in the season finale – their fourth straight win – seems to have righted the ship for a proud program that always challenges for Catholic gold.
“The win was huge,” said senior Liz Siravo. “It secured our place in the standings and gave us the momentum we needed going into playoffs. We hope to build off of every game and practice and have successfully been doing it the past week.”
St. Hubert's junior pitcher Lindsey Davies - PSD Photo
Bambies pitcher junior Lindsey Davies provided an honest assessment of Hubert’s early troubles.
“I’m not gonna lie,” said Davies. “We started out rough. We had people playing new positions, trying different things, just to see if something would click and it did over time.
“With hard work and determination each girl has progressively gotten better. And that’s exactly what needed to happen in order to win.
“I believe it does make a difference (having played Wood previously) because we know why we lost to them and we went right to work on correcting the mistakes we made during the game.”
Davies said every quarterfinalist is qualified to capture the coveted Catholic League plaque.
“I feel as if all the teams are equal,” she said. “No one is really dominating anyone. It really is anyone’s game. I think it’s a good thing that it is anyone’s game. It gives everyone a chance to win it all.”
Archbishop wood sophomore Kylee Guerrera said this time of the year is unique.
“The regular season is over,” she said. “Some games we played better than others. Every team is going to have good and bad games. St. Hubert’s is a very competitive team. We can’t underestimate them. They won’t go down without a fight.
“The regular season win gives us confidence that we can win, but we have to play our hearts out every game regardless of the regular season. Last year, we had a playoff game against (Lansdale Catholic), a team we beat in the regular season. Even though we beat them in the regular season, they beat us in the playoffs. We can’t let that happen again. We have to come out on fire and play the game like it’s our last.”
Hallahan senior Xandy Stoffere on not receiving much playing time but maintaining a reputation for hustle and positivity.
“At first I was a little mad and sad that I wasn’t playing,” said Stoffere. “But it’s not a ‘me’ sport. It’s a team sport, so I have to do it for the team. I do what I can to make our team win and do better.”
Archbishop Wood sophomore Kylee Guerrera summarized the Vikings’ dramatic 5-4, comeback win over Hallahan in a May 8 season finale that clinched a home playoff game.
“It was a huge team win,” said Guerrera. “There wasn’t a single player on the team that didn’t contribute to this win. We are battling injuries and nothing seemed to be going our way recently. I just had a gut feeling that it wasn’t over yet. We still had fight left.”
Junior Amanda McKenney led off the seventh with a double down the left-field line. Junior Jules Donchez was then hit by a pitch.
With two outs, junior Gianna Lancellotti slapped a single to tie the game at 4-4. The winning run was on third when Guerrera came to the plate.
“Working the count I was trying to find the perfect pitch,” she said. “I saw a ball coming inside and send the ball flying to left field, but it just hooked foul. With two strikes on me I choked up and took a deep breath. I could hear my teammates cheering me on. I identified the pitch and turned hard on it and was able to hit it over the shortstop’s head. Those are the moments that every player dreams about being in.”
Little Flower senior Nicole Lemongelli on the Sentinels’ steady improvement this spring, including heartbreaking losses to juggernauts St. Hubert’s (10-8) and Archbishop Wood (8-7) on May 1 and May 2, respectively.
“As tough as it was getting that close and falling a run or two short, it was definitely reassuring seeing the progress we made since the beginning of the season,” she said.
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