By: John Knebels
Photos/Videos: John Knebels & Mark Zimmaro
PHILADELPHIA – Rebounding from an immediate three-run deficit. An explosion of offense in the second inning. One of the greatest catches ever made. Surviving a late rally.
Regardless of when one arrived at Thursday afternoon’s Philadelphia Catholic League softball final that annoyingly and inexplicably started 10 minutes early, there was a little bit of everything.
In the end, a relentless 20-hit attack catapulted Archbishop Ryan to a 10-6 championship victory over visiting Conwell-Egan, the Ragdolls’ fifth PCL crown in seven seasons and the second for Ryan’s six-member senior class.
The Archbishop Ryan Ragdolls prevailed past Conwell-Egan to win the 2021 Philadelphia Catholic League Championship - PSD Photo by Mark Zimmaro
"We knew it was going to be a tough game,” said Ryan coach John Kidwell, who inherited the Ryan program in 2014 and has mentored the Ragdolls to titles in every season except 2017 and 2019. “They jumped right on us, but we knew we had seven at bats, and I was confident in our hitters that they were going to do their job. They just attacked the ball. They had great at bats today.”
When Conwell-Egan’s burgeoning star outfielder, sophomore Katey Brennan, clobbered a three-run homer three batters into the game, Ryan’s loud fan base became quiet.
The silence didn’t last very long.
Trailing 3-0 in the bottom of the second, eight different Ragdolls stroked singles. Add in a couple of outfield errors, and starting the third, Ryan was suddenly ahead, 6-3. The Ragdolls added three runs in the fourth and one more in the fifth.
Behind 3-for-5 efforts from seniors Reilly Mehaffey (leadoff) and Lauren Hagy (cleanup), Ryan’s first five batters went a potent 8 for 24. However, hitters six through nine – freshman Kayla Gray, sophomore Janine Swift, sophomore Sabrina Pastino, freshman Maya Chambliss, and pinch-runner/pinch-hitter freshman Eliana Szatkowski – contributed a scintillating 12-for-16 with six runs scored and six RBIs.
“We have some aggressive hitters, but they know the strike zone,” said Kidwell. “We knew the Egan pitcher would be around the strike zone. She doesn’t walk many hitters, so we wanted to be aggressive. We also tell them your at-bat is not over when you get two strikes – to keep making the pitcher work and you can come through with a hit. I’m big on two-strike hits and two-out runs. They can swing momentum of an inning or a game.
“My (starting) five seniors were pretty much our top five batters. I’m not sure how often that happens, so it pushed some pretty good players to the bottom of the lineup, and none of them like to make an out. They all were swinging a hot bat during the playoffs and should be a big part of our lineup next year. We used three different designated players for the playoffs and all three had great games with nice hits for us.”
After finishing a perfect 9-0 in the regular season, the Ragdolls upended eight-seed Lansdale Catholic in the quarterfinals and a scrappy underclassmen-only five-seed Archbishop Wood in the semis.
Their foe in the final, though, was one of the hottest teams in the league. After an 0-2 start, three-seed Conwell-Egan won six of their last seven. The Lady Eagles, whose roster includes only one senior, then dispatched six-seed Bonner-Prendergast and two-seed Archbishop Carroll to advance to their first final since 2012.
“They’re a very good team,” said Ryan senior Dana Bell. “We knew they would play us tough.”
After Brennan (2-for-2, two walks, two runs scored, three RBI) connected for the three-run bomb, Ryan’s ultra-rare advantage of playing a Catholic League championship game on their home field dissipated.
Though concerned, the Ragdolls were not worried.
“It was early in the game,” said Ryan sophomore Janine Swift. “Emma (freshman starting pitcher Emma McDermott) settled in. She did her job. She did what she had to. Our defense always has her back, and we responded with the bats just like we do in every other game.”
Third baseman Swift made an outstanding play on a bunt to nail a runner at first. Shortstop Bell negated a sure single with a stretch and throw from up the middle. Mehaffey hustled to track down a fly ball to right in foul ground.
In the fourth, however, a catch by senior Dana Moser defined the term “brought the house down.”
With two outs and a runner on first, Conwell-Egan junior Angelina Bresnen slammed a high drive to dead center field. One of the league’s best defensive outfielders, Moser got a particularly good jump. Ignoring safety precautions, Moser jumped high, reached up, snared the ball, and landed through the nylon mesh fence.
After she became un-entangled and jogged toward the dugout, all of Ryan’s starters sprinted toward the smiling Moser and mobbed her before she even reached the infield. The rest of the team met her before she could sit down.
“I knew coming in the game that I had to lay out for everything,” said Moser. “I always try to play very aggressively. While I was tracking the ball, I knew I was getting it.
“I heard my teammate Lauren Hagy scream ‘fence.’ but I was not afraid of the fence. I was catching this ball. I knew I had a good track on the ball and I just remember myself laying out and getting it.
“It definitely was one of the best experiences for me to catch that and to see the reaction on my teammates’ faces. I felt that it was a good confidence booster and helped us offensively in the next inning.”
In their half of the fourth, the Ragdolls sent eight batters to the plate and scored four runs, two of them on a single by Swift and another on a single by Mehaffey.
A gigantic momentum shift had taken place. Instead of trailing by 6-5 heading into the bottom of the fourth, Conwell-Egan trailed 9-3 heading into the top of the fifth.
“It was one of the best catches I’ve ever seen,” said Kidwell. “But I’m not shocked that it was Dana. That’s how Dana practices every day. I see it every day in practice.”
In the seventh, the Lady Eagles tallied three runs. Ryan freshman lefty Lauren Bretzel calmed the rough tide, inducing a grounder to Pastino at first base, a sacrifice fly out to Moser in center, and a strikeout that was corralled by senior catcher Deanna Moser.
For Bell, her second league title was different than her first. One of six Ryan seniors that includes Hagy, Mehaffey, the Moser twin sisters Dana and Deanna, and McKenna Kerr, Bell was named this year’s PCL Coaches’ Most Valuable Player.
In 2018 as a freshman, Bell was one of the league’s most dominant pitchers, leading the Ragdolls to an 11-1 regular-season and a 1-0 PCL title win over Lansdale Catholic while allowing a miserly one run in 21 post-playoff innings. This year, while learning a new position at shortstop, Bell was one of the league’s most feared hitters.
“Winning the championship means that all of our hard work over these past two years have paid off,” said Bell. “Not only have we been working towards this win this year, but we have been fighting for it since last year. Not having a season last year made this win that much sweeter.”
Kidwell couldn’t agree more.
“It’s always special,” said Kidwell. “Every year. Every game. We only got this team for one year. It was great to watch them play every day. I had a front row seat for every game. It was amazing what they accomplished this year.”
A huge five-foot dent in the centerfield fence provided the perfect reminder.
(Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)