By: John Knebels
Videos: John Knebels
Photos: Mike Nance & Donna Eckert
PHILADELPHIA – The final dance is set.
At 4:00 Thursday afternoon, captains and coaches from Archbishop Ryan and Conwell-Egan will meet at Ryan's home turf to review ground rules. They will pretend to wish each other luck and then compete for the Philadelphia Catholic League softball title.
Don’t expect a ballet or a waltz. Probably more of a frenzied swing.
The three-seed Eagles stamped their ticket on a breezy afternoon yesterday, defeating two-seed host Archbishop Carroll, 7-5. About 20 miles away on an uncomfortably chilly evening, top-seed Archbishop Ryan outslugged visiting five-seed Archbishop Wood, 14-7.
The semifinals were polar opposites.
Near Miraculous Comeback Falls Short
In Conwell-Egan’s win, the Lady Eagles took a 2-0 lead in the first, increased it to 5-1 in the sixth, and then added two more runs for a seemingly ultra-secure 7-1 advantage heading into the home seventh.
Carroll, however, almost pulled off a modern day Lazarus.
Held to six singles, a triple, and an unearned run through six innings, the Lady Patriots strung together six hits in seven at bats and trimmed their deficit to 7-5. With two outs and runners on second and third, a low laser fell in and out of the glove of freshman third baseman Ashlee Smith. Like a veteran, Smith retrieved the ball and fired a perfect throw to C-E’s lone senior – first baseman Laura Wang– to ignite a boisterous celebration at home plate and send the Lady Eagles to their first PCL final since 2012.
“Coach always tells us to stay calm and composed,” said Smith, who also singled in a run. “I was like, ‘Don’t rush the throw.’ I was a little nervous when the ball came out of my glove, but I was so happy that the throw went over. It’s the best feeling.”
The Lady Eagles threatened all game long. Sparked by sophomore Bella Palmer (3-for-5, run scored, 3 RBI) and junior Angelina Bresnen (3-for-4, 2 runs scored, RBI), they collected 12 hits and six walks. They could have broken the game open, but they left behind 13 base runners and wasted bases-loaded opportunities in both the first and seventh.
It almost cost them dearly.
“They just had a mindset coming out that no one was going to beat them,” said C-E coach Sandy Hart. “I said to the kids in the beginning of the year, ‘You need to be the better team at the end of the year.’ Hopefully, we are.”
Sophomore pitcher Ahlana Sesar, who helped herself by going 2-for-4 with a walk, run scored, and RBI, maintained her focus during the toughest stretches. She picked up a strikeout with two on to get out of the first inning, stranded two runners in the third, and somehow plugged the faucet in the seventh despite the deafening noise of shrieking Lady Patriots about 10 yards away.
Aided by a strong throw from freshman shortstop Molly Milewski to Bresnen to cut down a would-be run in the third, a pivotal brilliant pickoff toss to first base by Bresnen from behind the plate to thwart a threat in the fifth, and two consecutive clutch throws from Smith to home and first base, respectively, to end the game, Sesar closed the deal.
“I had to really stay composed and believe in my team, which I always have,” said Sesar. “Our defense is crazy right now. Yesterday, we were out in 91-degree weather working as hard as we could for two hours at 12 o’clock, right when the sun was out hitting us.
“Our goal was to become a better team by the end when we played again. This coach (Carroll head coach Mike Lorine) even said when they beat us the first time, ‘We will see you in the playoffs,’ and that’s exactly what we did.”
Since starting the season with losses to Carroll and Bonner-Prendergast, Conwell-Egan has engineered an 8-1 run. The Lady Eagles avenged the B-P defeat in the quarterfinals; they did likewise against Carroll in the semis.
Their only other loss this season occurred on May 10 – an 11-6 setback against . . . Archbishop Ryan.
Hits, Hits . . . and More Hits
When Archbishop Ryan took the field before pockets of animated spectators east and west of home plate, the temperature had dropped about 10 degrees from an hour earlier.
The 55-degree weather did little to freeze the Ragdolls’ bats.
Scoring in every inning except the sixth, the top-seed and undefeated Ragdolls broke the game open by amassing 13 runs in innings two through five.
Of their 37 at-bats, all but one starter collected a hit; seven different players scored runs; seven notched RBIs. Sophomore Sabrina Pastino smacked a solo home run in the third, and freshman Kayla Gray lofted a three-run homer in the fourth. Pastino, Gray, senior Reilly Mehaffey, senior Dana Bell, and senior Deanna Moser had multiple hits; senior Dana Moser and Gray knocked in three runs apiece.
The Ragdolls’ offense was simply unstoppable against a Wood defense that, for the second straight playoff game, performed admirably, especially for a roster completely comprised of underclassmen. In fact, the Vikings’ defense outplayed their opponent’s. Wood’s offense also sizzled with 12 hits, and four batters – sophomore Dakota Fanelli, sophomore Maggie Devlin, sophomore “Biz” James, and freshman Alyssa Miller– each contributed multiple hits.
The difference? While Ryan left five runners on base, Wood squandered a staggering 11, including leaving the sacs filled in both the fourth and the sixth.
“We have a pretty solid lineup one though nine,” said Ryan coach John Kidwell. “We were able to drive the ball, hit some gaps, get some runners on, put on some pressure, take walks . . . it definitely helped us drive some extra runners in.”
Unlike in the pre-coronavirus past, when the semifinals were housed in a neutral venue, the better seeds benefitted from receiving a home game. Between the pre-quarterfinal (home teams went 2-0) and quarterfinals (3-1), playing in familiar surroundings made a positive difference. Home field did not help Archbishop Carroll in the other semifinal.
“It’s very important for us,” said Kidwell. “We play very well at home. They like playing here. They have a little bit of extra confidence. It’s a tough place to play. It gets loud and it’s a big crowd, and we seem to thrive playing here.”
Home field, however, can only do so much.
“We have to match the intensity and need to match the work ethic the other team is coming with,” said Kidwell.
Aforementioned Dana Moser prepared for a battle to the end.
“We have to play each game, each inning as hard as we can,” said Moser. “I knew that Wood was going to play us hard. They’re always a good team. I knew we had to have our ‘A’ game today.”
Twin sister Deanna Moser agreed.
“There was a lot on the line, a lot of pressure,” she said. “Everyone wanted to be at their best. I think once we get on the field as a team, we all get each other’s energy. We calm down and play together. We try to keep a positive mindset – on the field and in the batter’s box.”
As they attempt to capture their first title since 2018, the Ragdolls will put their perfect record on the line against a Conwell-Egan team they defeated, 11-6, on May 10.
“You know they’re going to play a good game,” said Kidwell. “They’re well-coached. They got the same thing – a bunch of hitters up and down their lineup. We’re going to have to play really good defensively and keep our bats going. I’m looking forward to a really good game.”
He’s not the only one.
(Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)