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PCL GIRLS ROUND-UP: PCL Softball Gets a Mid-Season Shocker; Girls Lacrosse Competition Remains Despite Perennial Leaders

By John Knebels, 05/01/22, 7:15PM EDT


Photos/Videos: Colleen Claggett, Donna Eckert, John Knebels, Rachel Macauley, Dan Hilferty & Mark Zimmaro

By: John Knebels

PHILADELPHIA – Anyone out there have the capability of televising the rest of the Philadelphia Catholic League softball season?

Advertisers might be interested.

In one of the more riveting regular seasons in recent memory, PCL coaches have spent abundant energy tracking down final scores, obtaining impromptu scouting reports, and carefully perusing the league schedule to assess the countless possibilities about who finishes where.

The only constant has been Archbishop Carroll. The Patriots sport the only undefeated squad, and in only one of their five victories were they seriously challenged.

Outside of a tense 8-7, eight-inning win over visiting St. Hubert’s, the Patriots snared impressive wins over traditional toughies Conwell-Egan and Archbishop Wood by a collective 18-6, and 10-runned pitching-gifted Cardinal O’Hara, 15-5.

In the extra-frame affair against rival St. Hubert’s, senior Cheyenne Niehoff’s slap single to left field in the home eighth supplied the All-Catholic with her first walk-off hit.

“I went up there being too calm,” said Niehoff. “I’m known for contact, to the point that the Hubert’s team made a whole new defense just for me. Once that ball hit my bat, I wanted to cry tears of joy. Those are the memories I always wanted to have with this team, and it’s only the start of it.”

Right behind Carroll is defending champion Archbishop Ryan. After edging Archbishop Wood, 9-7, on the collective three home runs and nine RBI contributed by junior Sabrina Pastino, sophomore Mya Diorio, and freshman pitcher Moira Maw, and then blanking St. Hubert’s, 6-0, on a three-hit shutout by Maw, Ryan appeared headed for cruise control. 

Moira Maw, Mya Diorio & Sabrina Pastino reflect on their composite 3 home runs & 9 RBIs in 9-7 win vs. Wood - by John Knebels

Archbishop Ryan vs. Archbishop Wood - PCL Game Highlights (Thursday April 21) by John Knebels

Ryan coach John Kidwell enjoyed watching his Ragdolls slug three home runs in 9-7 win over Wood - Video by John Knebels

But two nights later on April 28, challenged by a ridiculous wind, the Ragdolls were blindsided by visiting Conwell-Egan, 13-1. The final margin had more than a few confused PCL personnel figuring there had to be a clerical mistake.

Indeed, the loss to Conwell-Egan sent shockwaves throughout the league. Ryan’s 23-game home winning streak, dating back to 2017, came to a screeching halt. The last home defeat had been an 8-1 setback against Archbishop Wood more than five years ago, including the pandemic-ruined 2019 season.

Time to start another streak.

“The game meant a lot to us seeing because they were our opponents in the PCL final last year,” said Pastino. “Getting beat like that is not a fun experience. But as a team, we need to focus on our task at hand, and that is getting back on track by beating Neumann-Goretti, Little Flower, and even more importantly, Carroll.” 

Pastino is referring to the regular-season finale on May 10 between Ryan and visiting Carroll. Although the top two finishers would receive a quarterfinal bye while third place hosts sixth and fourth hosts fifth, the victor of that Ryan-Carroll contest would capture the regular-season title and ultimately face the fourth seed in the semifinal and avoid a showdown against a significantly more challenging two-versus-three.

Archbishop Ryan vs. Conwell-Egan Highlights by Rachel Macauley:

CEC's Bella Palmer said her team was looking forward to their game vs. Ryan since last season - Video by Rachel Macauley

With basically one-third of the season to go, a logjam for third-through-fifth exists among Archbishop Wood (4-2), St. Hubert’s (4-2), and Conwell-Egan (4-3).

On the strength of a nail-biting 5-4 eight-inning win over visiting Conwell-Egan, Archbishop Wood is in the proverbial driver’s seat. After watching C-E score two seventh-inning runs in the top of the seventh to force extras, Wood senior Gianna Anzideo cracked a long single to left field that scored junior Riley Nolan with the winning tally.

“It feels amazing,” said Anzideo. “I knew we needed this win. With the bases loaded, I was just trying to get a base hit. I knew I hit it over her head.”

Nolan had reached second base on an infield single and error. Eventually, she advanced to third base.

“It was huge,” said Nolan. “I hit the plate and everyone was screaming. It was so big.”

Archbishop Wood vs. Conwell-Egan - Video Highlights by Kathy Leister

The Vikings followed with a 9-6 win over stubborn Lansdale Catholic as sophomore Maura Yoos went 4-for-4 while junior pitcher Dakota Fanelli added three hits and three RBI while strikeout out nine.

Archbishop Wood junior Riley Nolan (L) & senior Gianna Anzideo discuss dramatic 5-4, 8-inning victory over Conwell-Egan - Video by John Knebels

Archbishop Wood coach Jackie Ecker was thrilled for senior Gianna Anzideo’s dramatic game-winning hit - Video by John Knebels

“Lansdale Catholic is a good hitting team,” said Fanelli. “The game was a good reminder to us that we need to stay focused all seven innings.”

Unprompted, Fanelli lauded LC freshman pitcher Lauren Leshak.

“She deserves a lot of credit,” said Fanelli. “She kept us on our toes the entire game.” 

Now in fifth place but ascending rapidly is Conwell-Egan. The Eagles started out 0-2, though one loss was misleading because more than half of their starters were unavailable.

Still, stumbling out of the gates with a pair of defeats pushed the Eagles into a difficult position. After rebounding with two blowout wins, the Eagles struggled with visiting Bonner-Prendergast before surviving a 5-4 scare.

After a tough 5-4, eight-inning loss at Archbishop Wood, the Eagles travelled to Archbishop Ryan, the scene of where they lost to the Ragdolls in last year’s PCL final.

Conwell-Egan vs. Bonner-Prendergast - PSD Video Highlights by Mark Zimmaro

With both teams dealing with monster win gusts, Conwell-Egan stunned the Ragdolls, 13-1, ending Ryan’s 23-game home winning streak while more importantly serving notice that the Eagles are a team to be reckoned with moving forward.

“Going into the game, we were a little concerned because we were missing one of our captains due to injury, so we knew we really had to step up,” said Conwell-Egan senior Katey Brennan, who smashed a long home run in the victory. “It was really exciting to see everyone finally come together and play as a team.

“We had very strong defense and even stronger bats. At the start of the season, we were hit hard by illness and injury. We are finally looking like the team we knew we could be. Looking forward, we need to carry this momentum against St. Hubert’s and Lansdale.”

CEC's Angelina Bresnan says her team is working on the little improvements - Video/Mark Zimmaro:

CEC's Katey Brennan says her team is playing as a unit - Video/Mark Zimmaro:

CEC's Ahlana Sesar reflects on the Eagle's victory vs. MBAP - Video/Mark Zimmaro

Brennan was asked to reflect on C-E coach Sandy Hart receiving recognition from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) for her decades of coaching excellence after the aforementioned Bonner-Prendergast win, which was attended by numerous Conwell-Egan alumnae despite an uncomfortably chilly temperature.

During a poignant ceremony, Hart was extolled by the NFA for “not just putting in the time. It’s about what she has meant not as far as instruction and catching and hitting, but it’s about all the things that build character and make it meaningful as you go through life.”

A few days later, Brennan reflected on her coach’s recognition.

“It was heartwarming to see all the alums come out to support Coach Hart and her accomplishments,” said Brennan. “It made me feel honored to be a part of this program that has had such longevity.”

CEC head coach Sandy Hart was honored by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. PSD's Mark Zimmaro caught up with coach hart, Sesar, Brennan & Bresnan to reflect on her impact on and off the field:

True to form, in a post-game interview with Philadelphia Sports Digest’s Mark Zimmaro, Hart pushed aside the spotlight.

“You don’t think about honors like that,” said Hart. “Honestly, it’s not all about me. It’s about the players, and the players they’re representing from the year before and the year before. It’s nice that some of them are still involved with the sport.”

St. Hubert’s is the only team to give top dog Archbishop Carroll a game, losing 8-7 in eight innings. That suggests the Bambies have what it takes to make some serious noise.

But a later 6-0 loss to visiting Archbishop Ryan was disappointing. The Ragdolls were then stretched to the limit by Lansdale Catholic, winning 4-3. At 4-2 overall, Hubert’s will travel to Conwell-Egan, host Bonner-Prendergast, and finish at Archbishop Wood.

Hubert’s coach Dan Milio talked about the win over Lansdale Catholic.

“It wasn’t pretty offensively, but win is a win,” said Milio. “We were solid defensively. We had to use small ball to manufacture runs.”

Never taking an opponent lightly, Hubert’s three-sport standout senior Gianna Grassifulli doesn’t really care whom the Bambies play.

“Every year, there are definitely this many competitive teams,” she said. “The Catholic League is one of the best and most competitive leagues in the area, so no matter who you play, you have to be ready because every team is good in our league.”

St. Hubert vs. Archbishop Ryan Highlights by Krystal Williams

This coming Tuesday, Cardinal O’Hara and host Lansdale Catholic square off into what has all the earmarks of a pre-playoff battle.

O’Hara (3-3) will play three games (at LC, at Neumann-Goretti, and home against Archbishop Wood) in three straight days this week (Tuesday through Thursday). After Lansdale Catholic (2-3) hosts O’Hara, the Crusaders will visit Archbishop Carroll, host Bonner-Prendergast, and visit Conwell-Egan.

If LC can upend O’Hara, it’s not difficult to imagine that both teams could finish 4-5, and the tiebreaker would go to the Crusaders for their head-to-head win. But if O’Hara can defeat Lansdale Catholic, the Lions would fill the final playoff vacancy.

“Yes, that game pretty much assures us of a playoff spot,” said O’Hara coach Terry Coyne. “Lansdale Catholic is better than their record. They have been in almost every game and could have won a few of those if things had gone their way. We understand the significance of this game.”

Lansdale Catholic was at its best against Little Flower.

With freshman Lauren Leshak on the mound, the Crusaders notched their first PCL shutout since May 1, 2018 (10-0 over Archbishop Wood), a year that ended in a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Archbishop Ryan in the league final.

“It was a great win for us,” said Lansdale Catholic senior Bridget Duffy, who knocked in two runs. “Every game we try to just be competitive, and we have been working a lot defensively at practice and it really showed in that game.

“Lauren Leshak has been a great addition to our team. We had some good hits from multiple girls and the defense played great because we had no errors, and it really shows us that our work in practice is paying off and that we can be competitive. It’s great to see the teams hard work and dedication pay off.”

Lansdale Catholic coach Paul Suder said winning by shutout has a positive trickle down effect on the rest of the players.

“Any time your pitcher shuts out an opponent, it gives the whole team confidence, especially for a team that only won one game last year and starts only three seniors,” said Suder. “You want to try and be competitive first, but when your pitcher throws a shutout, it allows you to relax and play, knowing that you can afford to make a mistake and it won’t cost you the game.”

Girls’ Lacrosse:

A silly passing thought that will definitely go nowhere but what the heck . . . have two separate divisions in Philadelphia Catholic League girls’ lacrosse.

Have 20-straight-seasons-champion Archbishop Carroll and Cardinal O’Hara play each other about a half dozen times, maybe more. Every game would be competitive.

Then let the other seven teams fend for themselves. Never going to happen, of course, but . . .

“Oh my gosh, yes,” said Archbishop Ryan senior Emily Wright. “Those teams have been playing lacrosse since they could walk. We could never beat them.”

Wright was only confirming what most – if not all – PCL girls’ lacrosse followers have outwardly opined for many years. It’s a compliment to Carroll and O’Hara that for 77 percent of the PCL, just scoring a goal or two against either juggernaut would be considered a victory.

Taking aside Carroll (5-0) and O’Hara (5-1) – the Patriots edged the visiting Lions, 13-9, in a regular-season opener – the threesome of Archbishop Wood (4-2), Archbishop Ryan (3-2), and Lansdale Catholic (2-2) have engaged in entertaining competition. With those three teams basically a lock to finish as one of the league’s six playoff qualifiers, that leaves Bonner-Prendergast (1-3), Conwell-Egan (1-4), Little Flower (1-4), and St. Hubert’s (0-4) wrestling for the final spot.

One of Ryan’s wins came at the expense of neighborhood rival St. Hubert’s, 13-5. Wright finished with a three-goal hat trick.

“We beat Hubert’s by a good amount,” said Wright, “but ultimately, it was our team chemistry that won the game.

“It is still a neighborhood rivalry because we know we could never beat O’Hara or Carroll, so we treated that game like it was our championship game, especially because we lost to them by one goal last year.”

Lansdale Catholic’s Grace Picozzi has enjoyed the Crusaders’ two wins. Unfortunately, the senior has had to view every play from afar. 

Lansdale Catholic senior Grace Picozzi has been cheering her team on from the sideline this season after the first-team All-Catholic suffered a shoulder injury - Photo courtesy of @LC_GIRLS_LACROSSE

Lansdale Catholic junior captain Keira Trainer - Photo courtesy of @LC_GIRLS_LACROSSE

A need for shoulder surgery has relegated her to cheering duty for the entire season. If there was an All-Catholic team for great attitudes, though, Picozzi would be a Most Valuable Player candidate.

“It’s really difficult to be unable to play and to have to watch the action from the sideline,” said Picozzi. “However, I’m always looking for opportunities to improve my game, and this is a chance to learn off the field.

“But I love supporting my team and this is my last year with them, so I’m making the best of it. While the team likes to have fun at practice, the second we get on the field and it’s game time, we’re all focused and ready to get after it.”

Junior teammate Keira Trainer assessed the Crusaders at the halfway point, with key contests still coming against visiting Archbishop Ryan on May 3 and a visit to Archbishop Wood in the May 10 season finale.

“While having a good PCL record last year (8-2 for third place, a season that ended with a 22-5 loss to Cardinal O’Hara in the semifinals), we have to keep the same high intensity as we did last year without getting ahead of ourselves,” said Trainer. “We have ourselves a good time, but the second we hit the field, it’s game time, whether it’s just practice or game time.

“A couple injuries of some of our players have put a curve in the path, but we do not let this affect the way we play. While we continue to play more PCL teams, we continue to keep this fast start and intensity high.”

Archbishop Wood raised its record to 4-2 with a win over St. Hubert’s. The Vikings have taken three of their last four and have clinched a playoff spot.

Not too shabby for first-year coach and 2016 Wood alumna Erin Eckert.

“We were really excited when we heard a former Wood lacrosse player was named our new coach,” said senior Meg Hickey. “She brought us closer as a team with all of her experience in high school and college. During practices, she pushes us to do our best, which makes us more determined to win.”

Hickey will play soccer at the University of Pittsburgh Greensburg next fall. If PG begins a lacrosse program, Hickey might be interested in joining.

Eckert has depended on players like Hickey (14 goals, 22 draw controls, 13 caused turnovers) to not only achieve success this spring, but to foster a positive attitude toward the underclassmen.

“Megan is an extremely tough player who I can always count on to go the extra mile in everything she does,” said Eckert. “She does the little things well consistently, which are things that are not reflected in statistics, such as boxing out, or playing tough defense.”

As for the aforementioned Carroll and O’Hara, it’s almost inconceivable that they two won’t eventually meet in the league final.

Congratulations to Archbishop Wood's seniors, who were honored before their game vs. St. Hubert - PSD Photo by Donna Eckert

For Archbishop Carroll, Division I-bound seniors Kiley Mottice (North Carolina) and Emma Talago (Loyola) lead the team on offense and are close to 100 combined points. The Patriots’ defense remains steady behind senior captain Katie Koroly and junior goalie Bridget Robinson.

Archbishop Carroll senior Kiley Mottice will attend North Carolina to play lacrosse next season - PSD Photo by Donna Eckert

“The girls are really playing together and for each other right now,” said Carroll coach Lorraine Beers.

As for Cardinal O’Hara, the Lions’ only losses have come against three of the top seven teams in the state, and all by less than a handful of goals.

“Our team focus is to have more self awareness on the field and continuing to improve their lacrosse IQ,” said O’Hara coach Jenny Duckenfield. “They’re set to become all-around better players.”

Duckenfield praised the efforts of senior defender Anastasia Ciminera (Temple University), senior attacker Ellie Miller, and junior midfielder Maddie Sharkey (Old Dominion) for their collective performances.

Junior midfielder Claire Natoli, a Jacksonville University signee, has emerged as one of the area’s top all-around players. 

“She has been a great two-way middy winning draws, 50/50 ground balls, scoring goals, dishing out assists, and being tasked with matchups in the defensive end,” said Duckenfield.


 (Contact John Knebels at or on Twitter @johnknebels.)