PHILADELPHIA – It seemed a matter of time before Archbishop Ryan would score a run. Usually one run doesn’t guarantee a victory, but when your pitcher is freshman Dana Bell, one run might as well be 10.
In the Catholic League softball championship on a gorgeous May 25 afternoon at La Salle University, top-seed Ryan indeed severed a scoreless tie by plating an unearned run in the fifth inning, and Bell did the rest to provide the Ragdolls with a 1-0 victory over three-seed Lansdale Catholic and a fourth league title in five seasons.
“Words can’t even explain how excited I am,” said Bell. “I know with my team not being able to win the championship last year, being able to come in and help them really means the world to me right now.”
In three competitive playoff games against eight-seed Cardinal O’Hara (2-1), four-seed Archbishop Wood (3-0), and three-seed Lansdale Catholic (1-0), Bell surrendered a ridiculously stingy six singles, three walks, and zero earned runs while striking out 26.
Her overall performance will be statistically remembered as among the all-time bests.
“I try to work ahead of my batters and really just try and stay focused on the mound,” said Bell. “I know I have a great defense behind me and it’s not only me that’s stopping them from scoring. It’s really my defense behind me that’s helping me.”
Ryan coach John Kidwell said he thought the game would be “more offensive” since his Ragdolls (21-2 overall) were due to score runs while LC was coming off a 15-run, 17-hit barrage against defending champion Bonner-Prendergast.
But, said Kidwell, there was a key element that separated Ryan from the rest of the pack.
“We had Dana pitching,” said Kidwell. “Sometimes all it takes is to score one run.”
The hard-luck losing pitcher, sophomore pitcher Megan Burns, deserved better. Coming off victories over six-seed Conwell-Egan (2-1) and two-seed Bonner-Prendergast (15-4), Burns was arguably at her most effective.
Although she struck out only one batter, got away with a few line-drive outs, and was the recipient of a few strong plays by her defense, Burns only allowed five hits and did not issue a walk.
Burns picked up her teammates in the second inning when she stranded a runner at third – courtesy of a single by freshman Lauren Hagy and a two-base throwing error – by inducing a fly out and pop-out.
In the fourth, Ryan had runners on second and third with one out, but a pop-out and grounder back to the mound ended that threat.
In the fifth, however, Ryan senior catcher Haley Burns reached first on an infield error and advanced to second on a one-out sacrifice bunt by junior Erin Woltemate.
With two outs, senior star and Kutztown University-bound Kate Ostaszewski came to the plate. Since first base was open, there was significant debate among the “experts” in the stands whether or not to simply walk the All-Catholic senior shortstop, lead-off hitter, and one of the league’s top hitters and take your chances with senior Annie Cashman, not exactly an easy decision since Cashman is also a fine hitter.
LC decided to pitch to Ostaszewski, and it proved disastrous when she belted a single that scored sophomore pinch runner Haley Cattallo for the first and only run.
“I knew I had to step up and, being a leader, get a hit,” said Ostaszewski.
The Ragdolls would threaten again in the sixth when Bell led off by slamming a double to dead center field. Lansdale Catholic senior Lauren Crim came within inches of supplying a highlight-reel snare with a full-extension attempt, but she was unable to make the catch. Nifty pitching by Burns prevented the Ragdolls from adding any insurance heading into the seventh.
But truth be told, an insurance run would have been superfluous.
Working on a three-single, two-walk complete game, Bell began the seventh by striking out the first two hitters – giving her 11 for the game – before a line shot by sophomore Casey Meenan landed in the mitt of sophomore first baseman Sarah Vargas for the final out.
“I was kind of hoping that I would make the last play,” said Vargas, “but Dana strikes out everyone, so if that happens, I’d be grateful, too. I was in complete shock when I caught that and I didn’t know what to think. I was just so amazed.”
During an video interview after the game, someone reached over and plopped a Lehigh University hat on Bell’s head. She laughed and insisted that, although Lehigh is a possibility, she has not chosen a college quite yet.
Plus, college is more than three years away. This was a time to relax and bask in what has become a modern Archbishop Ryan dynasty. Beckoning on May 30 at Archbishop Ryan is the District 12 championship against District 1 String Theory of the Public League. A win there moves the Ragdolls into the PIAA state tourney versus the District 3’s four-seed representative at a time and location to be named.
“I think the sky’s the limit,” said Bell. “I’m really excited to see how far we can make it this year.”
With Lansdale Catholic’s season now over, aforementioned Crusader pitcher Megan Burns was asked 24 hours later if she was “okay.” Burns didn’t flinch.
“I am more than okay,” said Burns. “It was a great game. Losing like that against a good team like Ryan doesn’t really matter. Yes it was the championship, but a great game is all it was to me and the winning at the end was the bonus.
“We fought extremely hard all season long and I couldn’t be more grateful to play on LC than anything else. We are a great group of girls with a passion to play softball and have fun in the game. The winning is our bonus.”
Teammate Crim, who soon will play basketball at Chestnut Hill College, waxed nostalgic.
“It was a heck of a four years,” she said. “Sad to see it go.”
(John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)