Conwell-Egan defeated Archbishop Ryan 6-3 to win their first PCL title since 2007 - PSD Photo by Donna Eckert
Photos/Videos: John Knebels & Donna Eckert
By: John Knebels
ASTON, PA – Life-altering moments offer a variety of narratives. When they first occur, shock intervenes. Then, after a period of reflection, a dam breaks and previously forgotten insights flow freely to the surface.
After top-seed Conwell-Egan defeated two-seed Archbishop Ryan, 6-3, in the Philadelphia Catholic League softball championship on a lovely May 22 afternoon at Neumann University, several ecstatic players were at a loss for words that accurately described what had just happened.
Too, they felt more like celebrating than digging deep inside for pensive meditation, and for good reason. After all, there were more pictures to take . . . hugs to share . . . parents to thank . . . songs to sing . . . a bus back to Fairless Hills to board . . . a traditional school bell to ring . . . Rita’s water ice to consume.
A week later, the Eagles were asked to think of one or more memories – before, during, or after the game – that continue to reverberate in their minds.
“The day before the game, we had a team party, and we learned a new cheer at the party,” said senior centerfielder Katey Brennan. “During the game, I remember coming into the dugout after scoring and hearing everyone do the cheer that we had been practicing. It was the loudest I’ve ever heard the dugout, and everyone looked like they were having such a good time.
“At that moment, I thought to myself, this is what softball is all about – having fun. Since the game, I’ve kept thinking about that moment, and I am so glad I will have that memory forever.”
Leading with the recall of the Seton Hall University-bound Brennan – this year’s PCL Position Player of the Year and last year’s PCL Most Valuable Player –is symbolic.
After a four-run first inning gave the Eagles a commanding 4-0 lead, Archbishop Ryan bounced back with three in the top of the fourth. With momentum clearly having shifted, Brennan (1-for-2, two runs scored, two RBI, two walks, long flyout to left field) came up in CE’s fourth with two outs and a runner on first.
As she has done throughout her career, the PCL’s best overall player embraced the moment by smashing a towering home run over the right-field fence. The blast gave the Eagles a 6-3 lead and was subsequently followed by C-E senior Ahlana Sesar’s most dominant pitching.
After surrendering 10 hits through the first four innings, Sesar seemed to enter a different zone and allowed three harmless singles over the final free frames. Of her 91 pitches to 35 batters, a whopping 70 were strikes.
“One of the reoccurrences is how before the game on the bus ride up we were just getting extremely hyped and the energy was insane,” said Sesar, who, in two playoff games after returning from a concussion suffered on April 11, allowed only three runs over 12 innings. “The next is during the game – top of the first inning when they had bases loaded (and only one out). The feeling of the last out in that inning (a strikeout looking) was what set the tone for me personally to stay locked in for the rest of the game. The last thing that keeps reoccurring was us ringing the bell when we got back to school.”
Sesar benefited from several standout defensive plays.
With two on and two out in the sixth, senior Bailey McCormick tracked down a high fly in right.
“The day before the game, at the end of practice, Coach (Sandy) Hart showed us the paper articles from every year the CEC had won the PCL,” said McCormick. “Just looking at them gives you goosebumps.
“And she turned to the team and said, ‘This is all we want for you girls.’ And I turned to my right where my other senior friends were, and we just smiled and stared at the pictures. It just gave me flashbacks through my whole softball career here. I feel like we all took a moment and it actually clicked. Like, ‘Hey, this is it – our last PCL run. Leave it all out on the field. Third time’s the charm.’”
With two on and one out in the third, freshman second baseman Angelina Pandolfi (1-for-3) leaped high to shag a sure single and save a probable run and a potential long rally.
“Something that keeps going through my mind from before the game was just anxiousness to get on the field,” said Pandolfi. “During the game I was so focused on intensity. To be honest, I wasn’t into the game as much after my second at bat because I wasn’t successful, then shortly after Katey hit her home run and seeing the team get so pumped up, it gave me my energy back.
“The days after the game, I kept thinking about how far the team and me as an individual have grown over the season. We came so far and achieved many goals while also having fun and creating bonds.”
Thanks to first-team All-Catholic Cecelia McBeth, who went 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI, the final two outs provided a tutorial on how to play shortstop. Decently hit grounders headed toward the hole, and McBeth stayed low to the ground, gobbled them up, and unleashed strong throws to first base. Earlier in the second inning, she snagged a line drive heading toward left field.
“During our pregame the day before, the coaching staff brought out pictures and articles of past Conwell-Egan PCL championships,” said McBeth. “As we were looking through them, my teammate Amariah (McKnight) said, ‘I want that for us.’ I think that stuck with me because I knew it was in reach, and we just had to play like we knew how to in order to have the same thing for us.”
The player who caught those throws was indeed Amariah McKnight, who occasionally made calls easier for umpires by her ability to stretch. At bat, the sophomore ripped a two-run single in the first inning that doubled C-E’s lead from 2-0 to 4-0.
“I look back at my decision to transfer to Egan (from Truman) for my sophomore year to be a part of a competitive, dedicated team of girls and coaching staff that share the same goals that I do,” said McKnight. “I immediately felt a sense of welcoming to the team from the first practice, and we all continued to grow throughout the season by supporting each other on both good and bad days.
“Before, during, and after the championship game, the decision to come to Egan has been constantly running through my head. It was a honor to play and learn from our current upperclassmen and bring home the PCL title. I can’t wait ’til next season.”
The Milewski sisters – junior second-team All-Catholic third baseman Molly and sophomore designated hitter Lily – contributed essential offensive production. While lead-off Molly reached base three times (two walks and a hit) and scored twice, clean-up Lily went 2-for-4 with a run scored.
“Two things that are on replay in my mind is the last out of the first inning; that was a huge out for Ahlana and our team,” said Molly. “Another one is Katey’s homerun. She is such an amazing player.”
Lily keeps thinking about the euphoric ending.
“One thing that keeps replaying in my mind is the celebration with my teammates and being able to hold the plaque,” said Lily. “When I see the pictures, I am able to relive that special moment. I remember after the last out we all just ran out and gave each other the biggest hug.”
Junior third-team All-Catholic leftfielder Cassidy Blaskopf (walk in first inning) snared the first out in the top of the seventh. Not a bad memory to recall on your 17th birthday.
“My teammates and I were so excited to re-match Ryan,” said Blaskopf, referring to C-E’s 10-6 loss in to the Ragdolls in the 2021 final, which was followed by a 3-2 loss to Archbishop Wood in last year’s title match. “On the bus ride, everyone knew it was our year. Everyone was dialed in and focused on nothing but winning. We knew we had to beat Ryan this year.
“As I would run out to left field, I saw my family with signs cheering for me, which motivated me even more. I just focused on keeping the ball in front of me and staying dialed in on every pitch.”
After Sesar went down with the aforementioned injury against Lansdale Catholic, junior Lauren Bretzel took over on the mound and helped guide the Eagles to a 5-2 finish that clinched the top seed throughout the playoffs.
Her efforts garnered Bretzel a third-team All-Catholic nod.
“Before the game I kept trying to think about how we could keep the momentum going to finally win the PCL after being there two times before and walking away without the win,” said Bretzel. “This group especially deserved a championship.
“When we won, it was amazing. The losses from years’ prior, the hard work we put in six days a week in the rain and in the cold and throughout injuries all paid off with that win against Ryan. I just keep replaying the whole team celebrating on the field knowing that they were thinking the same thing . . . finally, we won!”
The player who caught every inning of Sesar and Bretzel’s pitching was junior catcher Leanna Bresnen, who knocked in a first-inning run with a bases-loaded walk and performed stout work framing dozens of close pitches.
“Something I remember is when Katey Brennan hit the home run,” said Bresnen. “After that, our energy went up because before that, I think we were a little nervous because the score was 4-3. Her hit really gave us an energy boost.”
As for the architect of Conwell-Egan’s PCL-best 25th championship – the 11th in her brilliant 30-year career as head coach – Sandy Hart shared a few reflective moments of her own.
Actually, more than a few.
First, some humor.
“Haney was driving my sister down to the game,” said Hart. “She is one of the team’s biggest fans. And I asked Gen what they talked about – the game? The team? She says, ‘No. We were jamming to the music.’ My sister said to Haney, ‘That would be cool if you had it in your dugout.’ Haney said to her, ‘Really? Do you know Coach Hart?!”
Then, some contemplation.
“Senior players and their moms crying after the game,” said Hart. “How they felt satisfied that after four years, their daughters were able to raise the plaque.
“Seeing the fans in the stands uptight and nervous, but knowing that our team was calm and composed.
“Practicing the cheers, and reminding them what one of our assistant coaches said the day before – this is a business trip . . . One of our assistant coaches reminding our players after each inning how many outs were left that we needed for the game. In the sixth inning, we needed six outs.
“Assistant coaches (former players Shannon Stricker, Class of ’13; Gen (Haney) Albernaz, Class of ’04; first-base coach Joe Sesar, and Wayne Bilardo) keeping the dugout up with a lot of energy, but also calm, and knowing that everyone was ready to go if needed.
“How I got hit by a softball when Ryan was warming up. Bruise was as big as a softball – hoping that our players hit the ball that hard!
“Bringing out the posters of a few of the previous championships, and telling them that the coaches want them to have one, too . . . Seeing the banner that they made that always has our logo on it. That tradition continues.
“Watching the seniors gather on the field together after we captured the Catholic League championship.
“And last but not least: overhearing Katey Brennan saying to the players after Ryan had scored three runs, ‘Stay composed. We got this.’”
Brennan was right. Conwell-Egan had this.
And they’ll never forget it.
(Contact John Knebels at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @johnknebels.)