By: John Knebels
Photos: Zamani Feelings, Kathy Leister & James Williamson
PHILADELPHIA – Unpredictable. Confusing. Bewildering. Surprising. Crazy.
But fun . . . really fun.
After Catholic League softball has thrown its final pitch, those – and several other – adjectives would accurately describe this current season.
After today's thrice-postponed game resulted in a St. Hubert's 10-0 victory at Conwell-Egan, the playoffs are now set. After tiebreakers - head to head, followed by record against teams highest in the standings - the first six teams receive byes and the next four meet in hopes of reaching the quarterfinals.
“It’s fun and it’s good for the league,” said longtime C-E coach Sandy Hart, referring to such uncommon league parity. "Any of the playoff teams can beat anybody.”
Hart’s contention is true, but too often in the past, that aphorism has been used lazily. Sure, technically any team can beat any team, but usually, it’s a farfetched notion, more like a pipedream.
Cardinal O'Hara vs. West Catholic Photos by James Williamson
This year? More than in any other campaign in decades, it truly applies.
Outside of Cardinal O’Hara, which finished undefeated at 12-0, the nine remaining playoff teams beat up on each other. But even O’Hara had its share of scares, edging Little Flower (10-8), Archbishop Carroll (2-0), and Archbishop Ryan (3-2) after tense battles.
Although they struggled late with consecutive losses to Conwell-Egan (3-2 in eight innings) and O’Hara (10-4), Lansdale Catholic placed second at 9-3 and embodies a dangerous opponent.
“I think, except for (senior-dominated) O’Hara, most of the teams are a mixture of a few experienced veterans combined with inexperienced underclassmen,” said St. Hubert coach Dave Schafer. “The balance is good for the league overall because it makes almost every game a playoff caliber game, which as a coach is what you want.”
The third-seed Bambies, who will host six-seed Archbishop Carroll, are a team no one wants to face in the playoffs.
With the long-awaited win over Conwell-Egan in the books, the Bambies finished 9-3 and have won four straight, all against playoff teams (Bonner-Prendergast, Archbishop Ryan, Archbishop Wood, and C-E) and all via shutouts by senior pitcher Lindsey Davies.
Little Flower is locked in as the fifth seed with a 7-5 record, identical to sixth-seed Archbishop Carroll, but Little Flower defeated Carroll during the regular season.
Bonner-Prendergast is the seventh seed and will host 10th-seed Archbishop Wood. Although their record of 4-8 isn’t pretty, the Vikings possess enough firepower and experience to advance.
Hallahan vs. Archbishop Ryan - Photos by Zamani Feelings
In a pivotal game on May 7, Wood fell victim to John W. Hallahan. Host Hallahan trailed by 3-0 before sending 12 batters to the plate and scoring seven runs in the fourth. Undaunted, Wood closed to within 7-6 before run-scoring hits by Hallahan senior Emma Stokes and junior Nina Rowan, combined with a magnificent catch in right field by freshman Mya Sulimay, provided enough cushion in a 9-6 win.
“I’m really proud of the girls,” said Hallahan first-year coach Brian Sitongia. “They beat a good team today. We are playing our best ball of the year at the right time.”
Hallahan was one of three teams, along with Bonner-Prendergast and Conwell-Egan, to finish 6-6, but because B-P beat both of those teams, the Pandas are a seventh seed. Hallahan defeated C-E during the regular season, so they are an eighth seed and will host ninth-seed C-E.
And what about defending champion Archbishop Ryan? After a torrid 8-0 start, the injury bug took its toll. The Ragdolls lost three straight, but they rebounded in the season finale, a 6-5 win over Archbishop Carroll in which senior Tori Slook drove home junior Sarah Vargas (game-tying hit) with a walk-off bunt single in the bottom of the seventh to erase a 5-0, first-inning deficit. The fourth-seed Ragdolls will host fifth-seed Little Flower.
“It felt very good because I went from not being in the lineup last season to having a walk-off bunt,” said Slook. “When my coach (John Kidwell) gave me the sign, I knew I had to step up and do my job right there. But all in all, we played great as a team. It’s never a one-man effort.”
The winning pitcher, senior Caitlyn Elliot, was sensational in relief. She ended up pitching seven innings and kept Carroll scoreless.
“I know what my job is,” said Elliot, who also can contribute at first base or in the outfield. “Whenever I am called upon, I just do my best to help the team win. I just want to always be ready to do my part.”
Little Flower was one of the teams that defeated Ryan. On April 30, the host Sentinels captured a 10-7 win behind senior Allison Ross’s four hits and three runs batted in, and a home run by junior pitcher Ginny Britto.
“Some wins feel better than others,” said Ross. “This one feels especially good because Archbishop Ryan is a great team.”
Although the Sentinels then dropped tough decisions to Hallahan (2-1) and Prendergast (9-8), they can do some major damage as the fifth seed.
Speaking of Bonner-Prendergast, the Pandas were shellacked by graduation but still amassed a 6-6 record thanks to winning three of their last five with victories over playoff teams Conwell-Egan, Hallahan, and Little Flower.
“I think we are all working our hardest,” said B-P junior Mia Falcone. “We are practicing harder and playing harder in preparation for the playoffs.”
Because, as they say, once in the playoffs, anyone can beat anyone.
But this time, in Catholic League softball, it’s the truth.
(John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)
Tag(s): Home Schools Philadelphia Catholic Softball Philadelphia Catholic League Arch. Carroll Softball Arch. Ryan Softball Arch. Wood Softball Bishop McDevitt Softball Bonner & Prendie Softball Cardinal O'Hara Softball Conwell-Egan Softball John W. Hallahan Softball Lansdale Cath. Softball Little Flower Softball Saint Hubert Softball Neumann/Goretti Softball West Catholic Softball