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SOFTBALL: Episcopal's Undefeated Softball Team - All for One and One for All

By James Williamson (photos & video by: James Williamson), 05/16/21, 2:15PM EDT


Episcopal Softball, Emma Tansky and the Pursuit Of Their First Undefeated Season

2020-2021 Episcopal Academy Softball Team

(Photo Courtesy:EA Athletics)

By James Williamson

NEWTOWN SQUARE, PA – Episcopal Academy junior Karen Xiao had high hopes of returning to the pitcher’s mound for the Episcopal softball team this season. She has been a member of the team for the past three years and a starting pitcher her freshman year leading her team to an impressive (15-6) record.  After having her season taken away a year ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was looking like this would be her year.

Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Xiao suffered an injury to her throwing shoulder in the Fall, which would require surgery in October. It took several months for her shoulder to recover, sidelining her through the winter while the rest of her team conducted group workouts. It was difficult not being able to work with the rest of her team, but it was a necessary sacrifice for the sake of her throwing arm.

“I remember in the winter during our workouts she really wanted to pitch, but obviously with the injury, she couldn’t go in right away,” said senior catcher and Gettysburg commit Elliana Hopple. “Then we started working her in during practices just to see what she could do, and then more recently she started throwing a little batting practice.”

The road to recovery was long and arduous for Xiao, but it all led to last Friday, May 7, when she finally got her first start this season against Inter-Academic League visitor Agnes Irwin.

It was an exciting moment for the young pitcher. She was able to get through the first inning with relative ease, allowing one base runner – who was then caught stealing – and striking out her third batter. The second inning, however, would not go so smoothly.

Xiao walked the first four batters she faced, with one of them caught stealing. EA head coach Kelly Edwards knew it was time to make a change.

“I think it was frustrating for (Xiao), but I could tell she was also getting inside of her head,” said Edwards. “Ultimately, because she was just coming back, I was only going to pitch her like two or three innings anyway, so it was the second inning, so it wasn’t that long.”

With the bases loaded and one out, in came senior right-hander Emma Tansky, who next season will be heading to Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. As the ace of EA’s team, Tansky thrives in challenging situations. 

“I feel really confident when Emma’s on the mound because I know that she’s really consistent and she can get it done when she wants to get it done,” said Episcopal’s Rylie Spor. “That’s kind of how it is every game. It’s a really good feeling to have her there.”

It would take six pitches for Tansky to get out of the bases loaded predicament. She popped out the first batter on one pitch. Five pitches later, she struck out the next batter looking. From there, Tansky completely shut down Agnes Irwin’s lineup, giving up just one hit en route to a 10-0 victory.

Senior Pitcher Emma Tansky gets out of a one out bases loaded situation in game vs. Agnes Irwin. (video/James Williamson)

These types of performances have been nothing out of the ordinary for Tansky, who has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the Inter-Ac. This outing marked her fourth time allowing two hits or fewer this season, as well as her fourth shutout performance.

“I’ve never had a pitcher where I can call pitches and they hit every single time, like that’s pretty rare,” said Edwards. “It’s unfortunate she lost her junior season because she would’ve had just as strong of a season last year. She’s unreal. She’s one of the best pitchers I’ve ever worked with.”

With the win, Episcopal moved to 11-0. On May 13, the girls rounded out their regular season play with an 11-0 win over Germantown Academy, leaving the Churchwomen with a 12-0 record and 127 runs scored versus only 16 allowed. 

As the only unbeaten team in the Inter-Ac, Tansky has been a huge piece of their squad’s success, but it is the complete puzzle of the team that has accomplished an undefeated record.

Junior pitcher Karen Xiao returns as pitcher vs. Agnes Irwin (photo by: James Williamson for PSD)

Just as Tansky did for Xiao, when one player struggled, another stepped up and gave them someone to lean on. That seems to have been the key to all of the Churchwomen’s accomplishments this season.

This Episcopal softball team is filled with players who are there for one another. They care for each other and want to make sure no one is carrying the load on their own.

“If someone is lacking in one area, we all know that Emma is going to pick us up, and if Emma is lacking in another area, she knows she can count on us as well,” said senior shortstop and Dickinson commit Hailee Moran. “It’s a very good dynamic we have here.”

This is what makes Tansky a great leader. She does not like to take credit for anything; instead, she lets her skills do the talking. In turn, this inspires the rest of her team to play at their best.

“We can see how hard she’s working with every single pitch that she throws, and when she’s up to bat, she’s a really solid hitter, too,” said Spor. “So, from both ends, we can see how hard she’s working. Everybody really just wants to get it done for her so she can throw less pitches and doesn’t need to work her arm as much.”

Edwards agrees.

“The girls recognize how much she’s doing on the mound and they want to support her,” said Edwards. “She’s a fantastic leader because she's good, but she’s not showy, so the girls respond to that well because they want to support her. She has the girls’ back and in return, they want to make sure her life’s easier on the mound.”

Tansky has accumulated eye-popping stats both on the mound and at the plate. She went into the game against Agnes Irwin with a 1.21 earned-run average and 106 strikeouts in 58 innings pitched while slashing .595/.625/.838 with 10 RBI, 12 stolen bases, and 23 runs scored.

“She has thrown every pitch of every game (some back-to-back days) and has never complained about her arm,” said Edwards. “As Emma would say, ‘As long as something isn't torn, I'm good.’

“She is tough and unassuming. Not only is she a powerhouse on the mound, but her ability to switch hit and her speed on the bases makes her a deadly player. She knocked a two-run homer over the left-field fence at Baldwin to help solidify the win.”

Tansky takes her success in stride.

“I really honestly try not to let my performance get to me too much,” Tansky said. “For example, the no-hitter I threw against Shipley, we didn’t even realize or speak of it until we were like, ‘Oh hey, no one really got on base except for the one walk.’ I don’t know, I don’t really like to think about it too much.”

Episcopal vs. Agnes Irwin game highlights by James Williamson for PSD

EA senior pitcher Emma Tansky compliments her teammates during this monumental season.

Tansky is not the only member of this Episcopal team that is sporting some gaudy numbers this season, as several players have followed her impressive lead.

Prior to the Agnes Irwin game, catcher Elliana Hopple was batting .519 with a .963 slugging percentage, 19 RBI, and, according to her head coach, about six home runs. She had two big hits against Agnes Irwin that started as a single and a double but resulted in runs because of fielding miscues. Shortstop Hailee Moran has carried an equally impressive bat, hitting .516 with 12 RBI, 14 runs scored, and six stolen bases while committing just two errors in the field.

Even with her injured shoulder still recovering, Xiao has managed to provide a major impact for her team. A player whose great game awareness has helped make her a natural second baseman, Xiao has also been able to contribute from the plate with a .269 average, .371 on-base percentage, seven runs scored, and six walks.

Each player’s performance has been an integral part to EA’s success, thus creating a ripple effect to the rest of the team.

“I've seen it happen where Emma, Karen, and Hailee don’t get on base in the first inning,” said Edwards. “It is a much tougher game to get the bats going.”

Tansky not only leads by example through her production, but by the way she carries herself on the field as well. Her bubbly and upbeat attitude while on the field is infectious.

The sounds of laughter and giggling can be heard throughout the entire infield when Tansky is on the mound. She has a way of keeping every player on the field engaged. After each out, she likes to sort of celebrate with her teammates on the field, whether it is through an air-five to her third baseman or sprinkling in some spirit fingers to her outfield. She incorporates everyone on the field, and that makes their bond as a team that much tighter.

“I think that’s super important, just keeping everybody in it,” said Tansky. “I’ll turn to the outfield and we’ll all be like, ‘Okay, one out,’ and stuff like that. Hailee and I will look at each other and kind of get excited and stuff. It just keeps us in the game.”

Moran particularly enjoys Tansky’s changeup.

“It’s filthy,” said Moran. “It’s absolutely filthy, and you’ll see our little exchanges within game film of us both looking at each other and laughing because it’s one of our favorite pitches, just seeing someone swing out of their shoes. It’s almost like every inning is a new game and it makes it very fun. Honestly, no matter if we’re crushing a team, it makes it fun. You’re always in it.”

Episcopal’s upbeat and fun-loving attitude has not been present in every game this season. Their matchup with Baldwin is a perfect example. EA carried an 8-0 lead going into the fifth inning when Baldwin started to do something few teams have managed to do against EA – hit and score runs.

Before they knew it, the score was 8-6 in the bottom of the seventh with runners on second and third and no outs. It was the most high-pressure situation this team has found themselves in all season, and it was mainly a result of the team’s lack of energy. They ultimately managed to get the three outs without surrendering another run, but the team learned a valuable lesson from Baldwin’s near comeback.

“They have to focus in and they have to support each other in the cheering and the loudness and getting up on the fence,” said Edwards. “It does help motivate your team, and I think they’re starting to realize that, specifically because when Baldwin was coming back on us, how into the game they were and how loud they were.”

EA senior catcher Elliana Hopple talks about the game and lauds Emma's Leadership.

EA senior shortstop Hailee Moran describes her team's dynamics and the importance of the program.

Epsicopal has learned a lot this season, but their growth goes beyond this year. This is a team filled with seniors who have played with each other for the better part of the last four years.

Wins were hard to come by when they were freshmen, but it helped pave the way to what could be the first undefeated softball team in EA history. Their chemistry and bond have grown with each passing year, and it has made them the unbeaten team they are today.

“I mean, Hailee and I have been saying since freshman year, senior year is going to be our year, and we’re starting to see it,” said Tansky.

Moran added her own reflection.

“Our team overall, since the time I was a freshman, has grown when it comes to just being a team, when it comes to chemistry and the bond as well as fundamentals of softball,” said Moran. “We have all grown together, which I think in a way has made our team very cohesive. When anyone lacks, the other person is able to pick them up, and I think that’s a really important thing. So, the 11 wins is a good showing of that.”

The one downside to Episcopal’s unblemished record is that it comes during an unprecedented year. The COVID-19 pandemic had been both a blessing and curse. The loss of last season has been a driving force, motivating the seven seniors to make sure they get the most out of their last year playing together.

“I think it’s really put in a lot of motivation for all of us, especially our seniors, because they really just wanted to get out there and get that season that they missed last year, and I think it really just makes everyone pumped up for the games and from what we lost last year,” said Spor. “We were going to be really good last year, too, but now I think we're just making up for it with all of our success this year.”

In addition to the motivation that the loss of last season provided, it also gave members of the team time to hone their craft. Players like Tansky used their time off to improve on certain areas of their game, and the work has clearly paid dividends this season.

“With the time off I was able to work on my slap hitting and all my pitches and stuff, so it really just drives me to incorporate what I’ve been working on now into the games,” said Tansky.

The biggest downside of this COVID season is the fact that championships will be handled differently.

Emma Tansky's jovial spirit is a constant presence on the mound. (Photo/James Williamson for PSD)

Normally, the Inter-Ac championship is awarded to the team with the best record in the conference, which Episcopal would have won, but this year, there will be a tournament instead.

While EA is the top seed in the tournament, there is no guarantee that they will walk out of the tournament conference champions. In addition, there will not be a PAISAA tournament to decide a state champion, meaning EA will not get the chance to test their mettle against the best teams Pennsylvania has to offer. Because there is no guarantee their season will end with any type of championship recognition this year, coach Edwards views an undefeated season as the biggest goal for her team.

“This is such a weird year that they’re not giving championships,” said Edwards. “They’re not recognizing the Inter-Ac, and our non-league games were cancelled, so we didn’t get a chance to see Marple, we didn’t get a chance to see Ridley. We didn’t get to see some teams that would’ve helped us get the recognition.

“They’re kind of an underdog in the sense that not a lot of teams know how good they are, so I want them to have an undefeated season, so if they don’t get a title, or any recognition for it, they can at least say to themselves we are the only team ever at Episcopal to go undefeated in softball.”

Even if Episcopal’s season ends without any type of championship award, what they have accomplished cannot be overlooked. This is a team that has seen remarkable growth over the last four years, from a young, freshman-laden team to a close-knit group that is one of the best the Inter-Ac has to offer.

EA Team members gather around undefeated tribute banner after their last league game vs. Germantown Academy. (photo/EA Athletics)

This group of seniors have worked hard to help change the culture of this program, and that is the type of impact that is felt long after players graduate. Episcopal has proven that they are contenders and that their softball program must be taken seriously moving forward.

“This is what we can do when we continue working and working and working, and I think that type of style will continue on after even when Emma leaves and all the seniors leave,” said Moran. “I think that we have a great chance when it comes to just us continuing this fire that we have going on and showing that it’s not just a fluke.”