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SOFTBALL: Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Going Behind the Scenes of Being a PCL Softball Player

By John Knebels Photo: Kathy Leister , 05/27/20, 10:45AM EDT


By: John Knebels

PHILADELPHIA – Hundreds of spring athletes have spent the past two months lamenting opportunities lost to the coronavirus COVID-19. They have longed to display their talents on fields near and far, to talk strategy with coaches, to share lifetime memories with teammates, to learn from both celebration and disappointment.

Throughout the past eight weeks, many young competitors have tried to convey their thoughts concerning this unforeseen calamity. Most have taken the proverbial high road; many have displayed uncommon maturity for a teenager. Still, it is clear how much they yearn to do what they do best.

In an effort to take us behind the scenes of preparation, performance, competition and consequence, 13 Philadelphia Catholic League softball players were asked to describe a first-person point of view regarding several specific aspects of softball.

Thanks to the never-ending wonders of video technology, one representative from each PCL school taped herself explaining what it is like to experience the following nuances:  

Preparing for the season– The chill of winter still hangs around, but the promise of pounding gloves and swinging aluminum bats – despite the resulting numbed fingers and palms – makes March feel like June.

About nine months after the last play of the previous season, it is time to begin again on an even slate, and most everyone can’t wait to get started.

Perspective: Cardinal O’Hara junior Meredith Hannigan

Cardinal O'Hara junior Meredith Hannigan talks about the transition from one sport to the next and how it's exciting when a new season approaches:

Preparing for a home game– It’s not quite noon, and the stomach begins to turn in anticipation. In less than a few hours, inhabitants from a rival school will hop off a parked bus or exit several vans and trudge toward a field and bench area/dugout soon to be transformed from pristine to sullied. Excited classmates donned in school apparel will group together and try to intimidate the opponent . . . community support at its finest.

Preparing for an away game– It’s an academic day that won’t include a full curriculum. After lunch, it’ll time be time to switch from school dress code to softball uniform.

Shortly thereafter, the distinctive scent of idling bus fumes will permeate outside the gymnasium, from where players will leave school about 90 minutes early and load personal bags, equipment, and water coolers onto whatever seats they can find. As the carriage departs for a trip to foreign land, out come the cell phone accessories to aid in some last-minute meditation or shuteye.   

Perspective: Conwell-Egan senior Liz Shire

CEC senior Liz Shire talks about the difference mindset of preparing for a home game vs. away game:

Warmups– The moment of truth is beckoning. Time to stretch and throw . . . and smash warmup pitches in a batting cage or, more likely, drill a soft toss into an oversized mesh screen. 

Time to catch a quick glimpse or two of how the other team looks and how they prepare – especially the pitcher. Does she throw a variety of pitches? Is her softball zipping toward the catcher’s glove at an accelerated speed? Are the pitches consistently near the target, or are they occasionally hitting the ground or perhaps flying overhead toward a cluster of unsuspecting, ducking players? 

Do the fielders appear able to execute basic flings to each base, a double play, or a relay execution from the outfield? Is the catcher’s arm strong or weak? Is the umpire affable or a curmudgeon?

Perspective: Bonner-Prendergast senior Mia Falcone 

First inning– If playing defense, the pitcher needs verbal support from the jump. Since no one is more invested than the hurler who stands 43 feet from the plate, the other eight starters are most likely shouting encouragement even before the first pitch. The crowd is on high alert. The fielders are anxious to get that first play out of the way, thus calming the nerves and putting themselves in a different mental state. If playing offense, seizing an early edge is essential.

Last season, PCL  statistics showed that the team leading after one inning won the game 73.6 percent of the time. 

Perspective: Neumann-Goretti senior Kristine Rosales 

Middle Innings– The nerves are long gone. Unless it’s become a total blowout, the outcome still hangs in the balance. 

If the earlier innings brought about success, now is the time to protect. 

If behind by a run or more, there’s still time to maneuver back in the game and etch a victory.

The end, however, is rapidly approaching. No time like the present to focus hard.

Perspective:Lansdale Catholic senior Megan Burns 

MBAP senior Mia Falcone talks about the anticipation of warming up before a game:

Neumann-Goretti senior Kristine Rosales talks about approaching the first inning:

LC senior Megan Burns talks about the importance of the middle innings:

Trailing by a run in the bottom of the final Inning– After all the hustle and bustle, and maybe even some cuts and bruises, you find yourself one run behind with three outs to go. And it’s not just one run you need, ’cause that would only tie the game. At some point, you’ll need to cross the plate at least twice. 

But first things first. Get on base. Get creative. 

Perspective: Archbishop Wood senior Kylee Guerrera

Leading by a run in the bottom of the final inning– The only obstacle standing in the way of a celebration is getting three more outs. Way easier said than done. All it takes for a heartbreaking consequence is one bad pitch, one misplay, one questionable call, or an umpire who suddenly becomes stingy at calling balls and strikes. 

Perspective: Little Flower senior Courtney Sherwood

Wood senior Kylee Guerrera talks about entering the 7th inning trailing by one run:

LF senior Courtney Sherwood talks about entering the 7th inning with either a one-run or multi-run lead:

Trailing by multiple runs– It’s easy to lose heart. Instead of needing one or two breaks, an enormous supply of kind kismet must come your way. Fact is, the likelihood of turning a certain loss into a stunning win is almost nil. However, as the saying goes, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, especially when the sport is not determined by a time clock. Can’t make a comeback all at once. It starts with a single tally. Patience . . . fortitude.

Perspective: Bishop McDevitt senior Caroline Cunnane

Preparing for a playoff game– Unlike the regular season, which consists of 12 league games and as many as eight non-league games, teams face one-game eliminations once they reach the postseason. Every decision – every play – is magnified. The combination of mental aptitude and physical execution separates the pack. This is when performers develop reputations for coming through in the clutch.

Perspective: St. Hubert senior Amber Dalton

Bishop McDevitt senior Caroline Cunnane describes what it is like from the prospective of a pitcher during a game:

St. Hubert senior Amber Dalton talks about the difference between warming up for a regular season vs. a playoff game:

Winning a regular-season game– You just bought yourself at least 24 hours of tranquility. Who knows what will happen tomorrow, but as for tonight? Relaxed eyes, contented muscles, pleasant recall. Get back to school the next morning and enjoy the high fives and braggers’ rights.

However, keep humble, especially if scheduled to meet the same foe in the future.

Perspective: Archbishop Carroll sophomore Juliana LaFantano

Losing a regular-season game– Disappointment, but nothing catastrophic. In most cases, you can simply re-board and start anew . . . work out the kinks during the next practice. But there’s no avoiding the reality that a lousy taste will persist until future fortunes are reversed.  

Perspective: West Catholic senior Ivori Reid

Carroll sophomore Juliana LaFantano describes the after effects of a team victory:

West Catholic senior Ivori Reid talks about losing games but never losing perspective:

Losing a playoff game– With high expectations doomed and the promise of competing in the next round extinguished, an unpleasant sight is watching distraught teenagers meticulously pack their belongings before heading over to consoling friends and family who can’t find adequate words to assuage the athlete’s disappointment.

It’s when the term “better luck next time” simply doesn’t compute. 

Perspective: John W. Hallahan senior Grace Scally

Winning a championship– Ask athletes who have just captured a title to explain how their team got the job done. First response almost always includes reminiscing about how all of their year-long diligence – weight training, cardiovascular improvement, nutrition, sleep, sacrifice – was beyond worth it in the end. Plus, since only one team can win a league crown and spend the rest of their life in constant celebration via storytelling and reunions, the moment of inducing that final out or igniting a game-winning rally is, in a word, indescribable. 

Perspective: Archbishop Ryan junior Dana Bell

Hallahan senior Grace Scally laments the difficulty of losing a playoff game:

Ryan junior Dana Bell talks about leading up to & winning the PCL softball championship in 2018:

(John Knebels can be reached at or on Twitter @johnknebels.)