By: John Knebels
PHILADELPHIA – Phew.
Throughout the Catholic League softball semifinal between St. Hubert and Lansdale Catholic May 20 at La Salle University, it was easy to sense the tension emanating from the stands.
Just as it appeared safe to exhale, mayhem ensued. When the last out was finally recorded and the two-plus-hour contest was officially over, St. Hubert had nipped Lansdale Catholic, 8-7, to advance to the Catholic League championship May 22 at La Salle University, where they will face top-seed Cardinal O’Hara.
“I’m definitely exhausted, but I’m excited that we won,” said Hubert senior pitcher Lindsey Davies. “Last year we unfortunately did not go to the finals, so our goal this year was to come back.”
After four innings, two-seed Lansdale Catholic was humming along with a 2-0 lead. To that point, the three-seed Bambies had left two runners on in the second and the bases loaded in the fourth.
Then came the fifth inning, and a different Hubert team awakened in the nick of time.
Sophomore Sierra Gozzi, hitting in the ninth position, led off with a walk. Eight batters later, the Bambies had scored four runs on the composite strength of four walks, two singles, and a wild pitch.
In the bottom of the fifth, Gozzi struck again when she caught a fly ball in right-center field and gunned a perfect strike to sophomore first baseman Emily Murphy to complete a rare eight-three double play.
In the sixth, Gozzi led off again and singled. Two batters later, she trotted home when senior Jordan Frye rocketed a fast ball over the left-field fence.
“You go through a lot of emotions in that game,” said Frye, arguably the league’s Most Valuable Player for her consistently strong defense at third and penchant for contributing clutch hits all season long. “It’s just important to come together as a team.
“St. Hubert’s has a lot of heart, so it’s important to show that everything we do, we do it with a purpose. We do it because it means something to us, and it’s important.”
In the seventh, senior Julia Nolan walked and Gozzi – again – delivered with a single. After they both advanced to third, Davies belted a two-run single to give the Bambies a seemingly insurmountable 8-2 lead.
But Lansdale Catholic showed its mettle. The Crusaders batted around in the seventh via three singles, two doubles, and the only walk surrendered by Davies – which was remarkable when considering the umpire’s miniscule and inconsistent strike zone for all pitchers.
After LC junior Paige Paciolla ripped her fourth hit of the game and second double to score junior Casey Meenan and decrease the deficit to 8-7, Davies retired the final batter on a soft pop-up to Frye.
The heady third baseman defended each of the three outs in the decisive seventh, including a mega-smart unassisted force out with the bases loaded, and two pop ups.
“She always makes the right play,” said Hubert coach Dave Schafer. “She always makes the right decision.”
Schafer, who insisted that he was not worried that Lansdale Catholic would come all the way back despite the five-run seventh, lauded his entire squad.
“Nobody thought that we would be here,” he said.
In addition to the obviously pivotal donations by seniors Davies, Frye, and senior shortstop Erin Hogan (2-3, double, RBI), the Bambies were victorious because of unheralded contributions by players such as senior Julia Nolan (1-2, runs scored, RBI), sophomore Sydney Scott (three walks and an RBI), freshman second baseman Riley Long (brilliant fully extended diving catch of a line drive to her right with runners on second and third that ended the third inning and saved two runs), and the aforementioned Gozzi.
“It was an all-around true team win,” said Nolan. “Everyone contributed. We lift each other up. We’ve been doing it all season. We believe in each other, and that goes a long way.”
As for Gozzi and her career-best performance on the next-to-last most illuminated stage, she credited her teammates and coaches.
“I haven’t had a game like this all year,” said Gozzi, who ended up scoring Hubert’s first and last runs. “I have been struggling with at bats, but my teammates and coaches have been helping me through it and keeping me positive.
“Going into the game I was a little nervous, but all that nervousness went away when I stepped onto the field.”
Schafer particularly mentioned Gozzi’s input.
“She has battled all year to get better, and her hard work is starting to pay off,” said Schafer. “She gives everything on every play. She’s very coachable.”
(Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)