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SOFTBALL: PCL Softball’s Memorable Regular Season Ends; PSD’s All-Catholic Teams Chosen

By John Knebels, 05/14/22, 10:45PM EDT


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

By: John Knebels

PHILADELPHIA – Every softball regular season contains its own individuality. Sometimes there is dominant pitching or torrid hitting. Other times a particular team shows almost no weakness as it plows through the competition.

This year in the Philadelphia Catholic League, there were two dominant teams; three that could have finished higher in the standings with a key hit here or there; three that fought for their playoff lives until the very end; and two that showed steady improvement albeit with only one composite victory,

As the final week approached, first place remained unclaimed because defending champion Archbishop Ryan and Archbishop Carroll had only lost one game each and were scheduled to meet in a regular-season finale. Places three through five could have juxtaposed in any direction, with Archbishop Wood, Conwell-Egan, and St. Hubert’s jockeying for position.

That left the sixth and final playoff spot available among Lansdale Catholic, Cardinal O’Hara, and Bonner-Prendergast, all of whom faced must-win situations down the stretch. Little Flower claimed the ninth spot because of its only victory coming at the expense of Neumann-Goretti, whose hitting improved during the second half of the campaign.

Now that the dust has settled and the standings are etched in stone, the postseason that will begin on May 16 consists of third-seed Archbishop Wood hosting six-seed Lansdale Catholic and four-seed Conwell-Egan welcoming five-seed St. Hubert’s. On May 18, the lowest seed among those four (the team with the worst record) will visit top-seed Archbishop Ryan while the highest seed (the team with the best record) will travel to two-seed Archbishop Carroll. The championship is set for 3:00 PM May 23 at Neumann-University.

So how did all that happen?

In a marvelously entertaining regular-season-ending battle between visiting Archbishop Carroll and Archbishop Ryan, freshman Moira Maw singled home sophomore Kayla Gray for a walk-off victory that gave the Ragdolls first place for the second straight season.

“I knew we had to come out with a lot of energy,” said Gray, who led off the seventh with a double and earlier had pegged a runner at the plate to end the fifth. “We had the same record and I knew it was going to be a tough game. We had our pep talks. Then everybody was there for each other, so it gave me a lot of confidence.”

Archbishop Ryan vs. Archbishop Carroll - PSD Highlights by Rachel Macauley

Maw, who also pitched a complete game, took her first-ever walk-off in stride.

“I was just looking to do something little,” she said.

That, of course, turned out to be a lot, but if not for two teammates in particular, Maw’s heroics never would have materialized.

In the fourth inning, junior Sabrina Pastino launched a home run to center field that doubled Ryan’s lead to 2-0. After Carroll had taken a 3-2 lead in the sixth, sophomore catcher Maya Chambliss supplied Ryan’s biggest hit of the season, a three-run bomb that easily cleared the left-center-field fence.

Chambliss’ defense, however, proved just as important, as she corralled two relay throws to nab would-be scorers to end the third and fifth innings.

“It’s a rush,” said Chambliss, describing the experience of preparing for a confrontation at home plate as a runner heads home and a throw from afar comes her way. “I know how good my teammates are and I know their capabilities, so when I knew that ball was going to the outfield, I just said ‘Four’ right away, ’cause I knew that they could do it.”

As for her home run?

“During that at bat I was trying to focus on getting the right pitch knowing that pitcher (Carroll senior Gianna Liciardello) is a really good pitcher. I got the 3-2 count. When I hit the ball, I knew I squared it perfectly to get it over.”

One of the league’s most feisty players, Pastino was just happy to contribute.

“This sport means a lot to me,” said Pastino. “I play 100 percent 100 percent of the time. This sport has always done good to me, so I love playing the sport and can’t imagine my life without it. I enjoy playing the outfield and I enjoy going up to bat. I don’t take it for granted.”

Though her team was unable to claim first place, Archbishop Carroll senior leadoff centerfielder standout Cheyenne Niehoff chose to concentrate on the bigger picture.

Ryan soph. Kayla Gray & fresh. Moira Maw combined for a walk-off running run in the bot. of 7th inning, in 6-5 victory vs. Carroll, to clinch 1st place in PCL playoffs:

Soph. Maya Chambliss & junior Sabrina Pastino both slugged homers to help lift Ryan past Carroll, 6-5, and capture first place for the regular season - Video by John Knebels

“I wouldn’t care if we lost 20-0, as long as every single person on our team gave 110%, and that’s what we gave it,” said Niehoff. “Ryan is our rival and not because we have been tied for the first seed two years in a row, but because we both are great teams, offensively and defensively.

“We aren’t angry at the loss because every single girl on our team gave their 110 percent like we asked them to. It would have been great to win, but we take every loss and every error and we will learn for it.

“It’s hard to beat a good team twice, so I hope to see them in the championship, but with a different outcome.”

Archbishop Wood had lost a 9-7 heart breaker at Archbishop Ryan on a chilly evening on April 21. That left the Vikings with a 2-2 record and, realistically, finishing in third place at best. But it would require some heavy lifting over the last three weeks of the season.

After victory vs. O'Hara, Wood Celebrates junior pitcher Dakota Fanelli's 100+ strikeouts this season:

Dakota Fanelli's pitching helped Wood outlast Cardinal O'Hara, 2-1, in 10 innings - PSD Video by John Knebels

When senior first baseman Gianna Anzideo stretched high to retrieve a strong throw from junior shortstop Riley Nolan to finish a 3-1 win over visiting St. Hubert’s on May 10, the Vikings had indeed pulled off five consecutive victories to clinch third.

Parker Kraus used her speed to help the Vikings edge O'Hara 2-1 in 10 Innings - PSD Video by John Knebels

Wood Coach Jackie Ecker enjoyed a traditional pitching duel vs. O'Hara - PSD Video by John Knebels

Riley Nolan collected game-winning RBI vs. O'Hara in 10th inning - PSD Video by John Knebels

Among the wins were a 5-4, eight-inning nailbiter over visiting Conwell-Egan; a 2-1,10-inning marathon survival at Cardinal O’Hara; and the aforementioned 3-1 success against St. Hubert’s made possible by junior Dakota Fanelli’s terrific pitching (seven innings, five hits, one run, three walks, nine strikeouts) and clutch hitting – a two-run homer in the third inning that also scored sophomore Maura Yoos, who had hustled to beat out a lead-off bunt single and moved to second on junior Paige Ross’ sacrifice bunt.

“As the season progressed, there were a lot of closer games around the league,” said Wood coach Jackie Ecker. “Teams are doing better. It’s up for grabs. Can’t take anything for granted.”

Dakota Fanelli is asked which felt better in Wood's win vs. Hubert's - her complete game pitching or her 2-run homer:

Wood Coach Jackie Ecker applauds her troops for a 7-2 record and a three-seed heading into the playoffs - PSD Video by John Knebels:

Cardinal O'Hara head coach Terry Coyne talks about his team's gritty effort against wood - PSD Video by John Knebels

Fanelli, who fired a no-hitter against Little Flower and allowed a minuscule two runs in 23 innings to finish the season (six innings against Little Flower, 10 against O’Hara, seven against St. Hubert’s), was one of several juniors that helped organize Senior Day for Wood upperclassmen Anzideo and outfielder Abby Windish against Hubert’s.

“We were all getting bats on balls, but they were making plays,” said Fanelli. “When I am pitching, I have total trust in my team to do the same.

“Senior Day was very important. We all came in here excited. We wanted to bring it home for them and then celebrate with a party on the field afterward.”

Conwell-Egan started 0-2 but rebounded with a 6-1 record to finish 6-3 and in fourth place. After a 5-4, eight-inning loss at Archbishop Wood, the Eagles employed dominant pitching to win their last three.

After stunning Archbishop Ryan, 13-1, on the road, C-E junior pitcher Ahlana Sesar blanked St. Hubert’s, 4-0, and Lansdale Catholic, 3-0.

After missing the opener and only throwing two scoreless innings in a loss to Archbishop Carroll, Sesar surrendered a miserly 11 runs over the last seven games – best in the PCL.  

“It feels really good to come back from such a slow start and to finally come together as a team,” said junior outfielder Katey Brennan. “There is a total difference in energy, whether that is in practice or in games. Everyone is very enthusiastic and excited going into playoffs. We need to keep it that way and carry it out until the end of our season.”

St. Hubert’s endured one “lopsided” loss – a 6-0 defeat against Archbishop Ryan.

The Bambies’ other three losses – 8-7 in eight innings at Carroll, 4-0 at Conwell-Egan but 2-0 heading into the sixth, and 3-1 at Archbishop Wood – could have gone either way.

“We’ve been struggling at the plate, but our pitching keeps us in the game and our defense keeps us in the game,” said Hubert’s coach Dan Milio, referring to senior pitcher Riley Long. “We just have to find that one inning where we put two, three, four runs on the board and get the dugout going and we’ll be in good shape.”

St. Hubert's coach Dan Milio hopes his team's offense matches its pitching and defense:

Archbishop Wood vs. St. Hubert - PSD Highlights by John Knebels

Coming off an 0-10 season during which they were shut out four times, Lansdale Catholic was an afterthought heading into March. Then the Crusaders surprised everyone and finished 4-5, good enough to earn the sixth and final playoff spot.

Significantly aided by a 1-0 win over Cardinal O’Hara engineered by up-and-coming freshman pitcher Lauren Leshak’s second career shutout, the Crusaders faced visiting Bonner-Prendergast May 9 in a virtual must-win situation.

Three times the Crusaders fell behind, and three times they came back. In a dramatic bottom of the eighth inning, Lansdale Catholic trailed 4-3 thanks to Bonner-Prendergast junior Kristen Webb’s inside-the-park home run in the top half.

With two outs and a runner on third (junior Sam McHugh had led off with a single and was replaced by senior pinch runner Caitlin Martinez), freshman Ava Coughlin lofted a first-pitch single to right field to tie the game. After en error placed runners at first and second, senior Maddie Boudreau roped a single to right that scored Coughlin with the winning tally.

Lansdale Catholic vs. Bonner-Prendergast - PSD Highlights by John Knebels

LC coach Paul Suder was quite proud of his playoff-bound Crusaders - PSD Video by John Knebels

The Crusaders mobbed Boudreau near first base.

Lansdale Catholic, the team the rest of the league probably forgot about, was heading for the postseason.

“As a coach, I just really wanted them to make good solid contact and whatever happens, happens,” said Lansdale Catholic coach Paul Suder. “Bonner was an outstanding team. Their second baseman (freshman Grace Edwards) was fantastic. I think she took three or four runs from us. They have a good pitcher (senior Talia Carr). Their catcher (Webb) let very little get by her.

“But we kept battling with two out hits. This is great for the kids.”

The Crusaders erupted in a post-game huddle after Suder reminded them that they had officially qualified for the Catholic League playoffs.

“It is kind of a rebuilding year for us,” said Suder. “We have the three seniors that play. We rely on them to bring leadership, and that’s exactly what they bring to every game, even today. We may not be the most talented team out there, but through the seniors, they push the freshmen and we get a lot out of them.

“I told the girls there was nobody in the PCL that saw us play last year that thought we were going to make the playoffs this year. We are looking forward to the playoffs. Anything can happen.”

Coughlin and Boudreau – freshman and senior – talked about the game-winning connection.  

“The first pitch, I just knew I had to hit it,” said Coughlin. “I couldn’t really do anything about it. I had to go up there. I figured I might as well hit the ball.”

Added Boudreau: “I was trying to hit the ball as far as I could and hope for the best. It’s really exciting to be going to the playoffs. No one expected us this year.”

With the game tied 2-2 in the top of the seventh, Bonner-Prendergast got two-out singles from senior Kellie Martin and freshman Lexi Horton. The next batter, freshman Marina Tagliaferri, lofted a long fly ball to left that appeared headed for extra bases.

LC fresh. Ava Coughlin (L) & senior Maddie Boudreau reminisce about their game-winning connection to put LC in the PCL playoffs:

LC fresh. pitcher Lauren Leshak (L) threw a complete game & benefited from senior Bridget Duffy's defense in left field:

But Lansdale Catholic senior left fielder Bridget Duffy fought windy conditions, stayed with the ball, and corralled the potential game changer.

“She hit that very well,” said Duffy. “I dropped back and thought I gotta make the catch and somehow, someway it went in the glove.

“Last year wasn’t great for us. We didn’t know how to feel going into this year, but we knew we were going to work hard and play our best every day, and here we are in the playoffs.”

Leshak appreciated Duffy saving the day.

“She caught a bad pitch and I thought that was gone, but she made an amazing catch and I was so happy about it,” said Leshak. “She saved me when she came in. I said, ‘Thank you.’

“I had so many nerves. As a freshman, I don’t get to see that kind of stuff that much. But I knew my team was behind me.”

A week later, in a non-league victory over Mount St. Joseph’s Academy, Suder notched his 300th career victory in a career that began in 1997. He preferred little to no fanfare after the momentous achievement.

“I have zero home runs, zero RBI, and zero strikeouts,” said Suder. “It’s the players, parents, administrators, assistant coaches, my family, and God that I’m thankful for.”

The four non-playoff squads included Cardinal O'Hara, Bonner-Prendergast, Little Flower, and Neumann-Goretti.

Led by affable new coach Terry Coyne, Cardinal O’Hara (4-5) is probably the team that drew a sigh of relief among the playoff teams. Because of freshman pitching sensation Hayden Sissons – who against Archbishop Wood struck out 21 batters in 10 innings – the Lions supplied a major threat regardless of the opponent.

In addition to super-tough losses to St. Hubert’s, 6-5; Archbishop Ryan, 9-5, in eight innings; Lansdale Catholic, 1-0; and Archbishop Wood, 2-1, in 10 innings that required the annoying international tie-breaking procedures to hasten the result, the Lions defeated Conwell-Egan, 4-2.

Bonner-Predergast (3-6) seized the win of the year on May 3 against Archbishop Carroll. The visiting Pandas were 1-4 and coming off a hard-fought 9-6, eight-inning loss against Cardinal O’Hara while Carroll was 5-0 and had outscored its opponents by a collective 56 to 18.

But the Pandas stunned the Patriots, 6-5.

In their penultimate game of the season, Bonner-Prendergast had an opportunity to basically clinch a playoff if they could beat Lansdale Catholic, but LC came back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to force extra innings, and after scoring a run in the eighth to move ahead, 3-2, the Pandas were unable to get a third out as LC used consecutive singles for a 4-3 win.

Little Flower (1-8) performed well in a win over Neumann-Goretti and losses to Lansdale Catholic, 6-0, and Cardinal O’Hara, 6-3.

Neumann-Goretti, fielding its first team since 2019, improved its hitting. During the first five games, the Saints were shut out three times and scored a total of seven runs. Over the final four games, however, Neumann-Goretti scored 14. The Saints’ best performances included a 7-5 loss to playoff squad Lansdale Catholic on April 5, and scoring five runs against Bonner-Prendergast in their season finale.


Choosing an All-Catholic list for any sport is an impossible proposition in the sense that subjectivity trumps objectivity.

Among the issues are the intangible contributions by individual players that coaches see on a daily basis that create an understandable bias, field conditions, complaints about spotty officiating, and above all, statistical differences among coaches.

The website application “Game Changer” is quite helpful. A program that provides live pitch-by-pitch streaming allows coaches, players, and fans to check how their teams and players are performing. In PCL softball, however, the only teams that employ “Game Changer” are Archbishop Carroll, Archbishop Wood, and Cardinal O’Hara.

Thus, whatever statistics that coaches present to their peers as fuel for eligible All-Catholics must be accepted with trust and integrity. 

With Philadelphia Sports having covered most if not all of the PCL games, there is more than enough fodder to present a list of PSD’s first- and second-team All-Catholics.

Although there includes a smattering of commentary, the majority of these selections will not be accompanied by specific final statistics, either because the coach did not provide them, or there was enough of a disparity between what we saw and what was reported by coaches or student managers.

After all, a bobbled ball by an infielder should almost always be considered an error – the same with an easy pop-up that glances off a poorly positioned glove. And when a player hits a gapper, and two fielders botch the relay, that’s not a home run. Sometimes, not even a triple.

But coaches do their best, as have we. There will be disagreements, no doubt, but that’s part of the dance.

One last thing – every one of these players have a batting average of .350 or higher and are regarded as good to excellent fielders.

Oh, and one more last thing – it does NOT matter the year of these players. Regardless of a player’s past, this is based on this season alone.

Let the growling begin . . .

First Team:

Pitchers: Ahlana Sesar, Conwell-Egan (allowed league-low 11 total runs in seven starts, including only one against super-potent Archbishop Ryan; Dakota Fanelli, Archbishop Wood (allowed league’s second-best 29 runs for a 2.89 earned-run average, struck out 76, and tossed a six-inning no-hitter); Gianna Liciardello, Archbishop Carroll (34 runs allowed).

Catcher: Angelina Bresnan, Conwell-Egan

First Baseman: Lauren Martin, Archbishop Carroll

Second Baseman: Maura Yoos, Archbishop Wood

Third Baseman: Dakotah Jones, Archbishop Carroll

Shortstop: Kayla Gray, Archbishop Ryan

Outfielders: Maya Preston, Archbishop Carroll; Katey Brennan, Conwell-Egan; Cheyenne Niehoff, Archbishop Carroll.

Designated Hitter: Sabrina Pastino, Archbishop Ryan. *** Pastino is also an excellent outfielder, but just a tad below those three. That said, she is unquestionably a first-team All-Catholic who has quite a knack for clutch hits.

Second Team:

Pitchers: Riley Long, St. Hubert’s; Moira Maw, Archbishop Ryan; Hayden Sissons, Cardinal O’Hara.

Catcher: Maya Chambliss, Archbishop Ryan

First Baseman: Mya Diorio, Archbishop Ryan

Shortstop: Maddie Martin, Archbishop Carroll

Third Baseman: Janine Swift, Archbishop Ryan

Extra Infielder: Gianna Grassifulli, St. Hubert’s. *** Played mostly shortstop and filled in at third base. No doubt she would play an adequate second base if needed. One of the league’s best competitors who often plays injured and served as a strong leadoff hitter, there’s no way she is left off an All-Catholic team.

Outfielders: Abby Windish, Archbishop Wood; Charlotte Pugh, St. Hubert’s; Parker Kraus, Archbishop Wood.

Most Valuable Player: The term “Most Valuable Player” is markedly different than Player of the Year, which is usually chosen as a league MVP. The MVP is the person whose absence significantly changes the course of a successful team, a player whose absence might cost them two, three, or more wins.

The player that fits that description best is Archbishop Wood pitcher/clean-up slugger Dakota Fanelli. In addition to allowing the second fewest runs of any PCL pitcher, Fanelli is Wood’s most feared power hitter with a .419 batting average and a team-best 15 runs batted in; her two-run homer and complete game in a 3-1 win over St. Hubert’s in the season finale kept the Vikings as a three seed at home instead of becoming a five seed on the road.

As for “Player of the Year”, no one has been more dominant with the bat and glove than Conwell-Egan’s Katey Brennan, Archbishop Carroll’s Maya Preston, and Archbishop Carroll teammate Cheyenne Niehoff

Coach of the Year: Paul Suder, Lansdale Catholic: As mentioned earlier, after finishing 0-10 last year, no one considered Lansdale Catholic as a playoff team. But the Crusaders clawed their way to the sixth position with solid pitching, timely hitting, and improving defense. In games decided by one or two runs, the Crusaders won three of four, highlighted by the 4-3, eight-inning win over Bonner-Prendergast that clinched a playoff.

As several PCL coaches remarked over the past few days – can’t wait for this year’s playoffs. 

Paul Suder, Lansdale Catholic Head Coach - PSD Photo by Colleeb Claggett

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