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SOFTBALL: After Extremely Tight Regular Season, PCL Playoffs Come With Much Anticipation

By John Knebels. Photos: Carlos Otero & Richard Barnes, 05/12/24, 8:30PM EDT


Photos: Richard Barnes, Jose Rincon Pena & Carlos Otero

By: John Knebels

PHILADELPHIA – Talk about the importance of one run here, one run there.

If not for several one-inning rallies and one-inning meltdowns, the Philadelphia Catholic League softball’s regular-season standings and upcoming playoffs would look markedly different.

Which means that, starting on Monday, substantial intrigue embodies the PCL quarterfinals and Wednesday’s subsequent semifinals before the two finalists meet for the PCL title 4:00 PM May 20 at Neumann University.

Each of the six playoff teams has experienced plentiful crazy twists along the way.

In its nine victories, top-seed Archbishop Ryan (9-1) averaged a winning margin of 12-3. But on May 2, the Ragdolls couldn’t get anything working in a 13-4 shellacking at the hands of visiting Archbishop Carroll – only the fourth time in seven seasons that Archbishop Ryan has lost by nine runs or more.

The Ragdolls responded with victories over Conwell-Egan, 8-1, and Bonner-Prendergast, 9-3. In the former, a loss would have given the regular-season title to C-E. Taking advantage of a shorthanded Eagles squad, Ryan raced to a commanding 7-0 lead after two innings. 

Archbishop Ryan vs. Conwell-Egan - PSD Highlights by John Knebels

“It’s an incredible feeling to be in first place especially, since this is my last ride,” said Ryan senior slugger Mya Diorio, a major PCL Most Valuable Player candidate. “Losing to Carroll was a good wakeup for us and definitely motivated us to finish the season by playing two really good games. Anything can happen in the postseason, but we are definitely ready and very excited for what is to come.”

After a first-round bye, the Ragdolls will host the lowest remaining seed in the semifinals 6:30 PM Wednesday.

Key hit by Ashlynn Clarkson punctuated Archbishop Ryan’s 7-4 victory over Cardinal O’Hara on April 30 - PSD Video by John Knebels

Maddie Velez’s complete game helped Archbishop Ryan defeat Cardinal O’Hara, 7-4, on April 30 - PSD Video by John Knebels

“A major advantage of being the first seed is that we have a lot of confidence coming off of some good wins and we have a good amount of time for rest and practice to be prepared for our next game,” said Ryan junior Izzie Baron. “I feel like it puts a little more pressure on us than usual knowing teams are going to be playing harder to try and beat us, but that just motivates our team to work harder to win.” 

Rudy Taruwinga’s clutch hit was essential in Archbishop Ryan’s 7-4 win over Cardinal O’Hara on April 30 - PSD Video by John Knebels

(L-R) Ashlynn Clarkson, Izzie Baron, Mya Diorio & Maddie Velez fueled Ryan’s 8-1 win vs. Egan & a 1st place finish in regular season.

Coming off a somber 5-1 loss at Archbishop Wood on April 16, two-seed Conwell-Egan (8-2) next faced Archbishop Carroll and trailed, 6-3, in the bottom of the seventh. A shocking four runs later, the elated Eagles suddenly exhibited their defending champion pedigree.

After a quarterfinal bye, the Eagles will host the second lowest seed in the semifinals 3:45 on Wednesday.

“One of our biggest goals this season has been to host a playoff game,” said junior Amariah McKnight. “The upsetting loss against Wood in the beginning of the season opened our eyes to others seeking out to challenge us.

“As the defending PCL champion, defending the title has shown us that the pressure is a privilege. Our team has dug deep throughout the season to set us up for a first-round bye in the playoffs, which will be a huge benefit in the postseason.”

Senior Molly Milewski succinctly summarized Conwell-Egan’s mid-through-late season improvement.

“We realized that we have to step up our game and hit the ball and string the hits together,” said Milewski. “We realized that we can’t win games with just three hits.”

After squandering a three-run, seventh-inning lead in a 7-6 walk-off loss at Conwell-Egan, and then one week later blowing a 3-0 advantage in a 4-3 defeat at Archbishop Wood, three-seed Archbishop Carroll (8-2) knocked over the PCL applecart on May 2 when they annihilated host Archbishop Ryan, 13-4. Thus, only two runs separated the Patriots from a perfect regular season.

Carroll will host six-seed Nazareth Academy in the quarterfinals 3:45 PM Monday. On April 25, Carroll defeated host Nazareth, 9-5. 

“I think it’s important to not go into a game thinking you are gonna win over a team based on stats or other people’s perspectives,” said Carroll junior Dakotah Johnson, who fired a complete game and smashed a two-run homer in Carroll’s marquee win over Archbishop Ryan. “This year, it’s been a good matchup against most teams we’ve played, so it’s important to play with the same intensity you would against a top team, and be aggressive and not waste a pitch or play.” 

(L-R) Archbishop Carroll’s Colleen Lloyd, Cecelia Weller, Maddie Long, and Dakotah Johnson overwhelmed previously undefeated Archbishop Ryan, 13-4, in key PCL contest on May 2 - PSD Video by John Knebels

With a roster that includes only two seniors – Johnson and Emma Lamlin – Archbishop Carroll appears built for a long run of success.

“I believe that it really helps our team with the different grades,” said senior Ceceilia Weller. “It gives us all a sense of community on the team and allows us to come together and help everyone out in different ways. It really is amazing seeing the underclassmen develop and contribute. I believe that is why we have been playing the way we have, as all the different grades have developed and learned how to play together.”

After losing two of three down the stretch, including a forgettable 12-2 disaster against Conwell-Egan, four-seed Cardinal O’Hara (7-3) desperately needed a win against visiting Archbishop Wood in its May 7 regular-season finale. After building a comfortable 8-2 lead after five innings, the Lions survived a late rally, and their 9-7 win secured O’Hara’s first home playoff contest since 2019.

The host Lions face the same opponent – Archbishop Wood – in the quarterfinals 3:45 Monday.

Cardinal O'Hara vs. Archbishop Wood - PSD Highlights by John Knebels

“I feel like being at home, with the support of our family and friends around us, was definitely a deciding factor in our game against Wood,” said O’Hara junior Avery Groh. “Playing at home again is just the push we need to advance into the second round of playoffs.

“This season, the PCL has been neck and neck, with so many great games, and it’s exciting to finally be up in the standings with some of the best teams competing along side of them.”

Hayden Sissons' pitching and hitting helped Cardinal O'Hara defeat Archbishop Wood, 9-7 - PSD Video by John KNebels

Lead off hitter Avery Groh scored 3 runs in O'Hara's 9-7 win over Archbishop Wood - PSD Video by John Knebels

It’s difficult to know what to expect from five-seed Archbishop Wood (7-3). In their victories over two-seed Conwell-Egan, 5-1, and three-seed Archbishop Carroll, 4-3, the Vikings demonstrated the rewards of strong pitching, great defense, and timely hitting. However, in their defeats, the Vikings allowed 10 runs in the sixth inning and dropped an eminently disastrous 13-6 decision at seventh-place, non-playoff qualifier Bonner Prendergast; a 16-6 pasting at Archbishop Ryan that ended in the sixth inning; and an excruciating 9-7 regular-season finale loss at Cardinal O’Hara that, instead of finishing in second place and enjoying a quarterfinal bye and home-field advantage in the semis, relegated the Vikings to needing two wins on the road, starting at O’Hara 3:45 Monday.

“We continue to come together as a team,” said Wood senior Parker Kraus. “We have beaten some of the top teams in the league. We have a great mix of younger and older players. The team has learned throughout this year that if we play clean and if we play smart, we can compete with anybody in the playoffs.”

Wood senior Maura Yoos concurred.

“The PCL has a lot of strong teams and players this year, so any team we face moving forward will definitely be a challenge,” said Yoos. “We are excited going into playoffs and know we need to take it one game at a time. I feel like our team is really playing for each other and ready to make a great run in the playoffs.”

Sitting at 2-5, playoff aspirations for sixth-seed Nazareth Academy (5-5) seemed unlikely. The Pandas, however, had steadily improved along the way, competing nicely in losses against the playoff-bound trio of Archbishop Wood (7-3), Cardinal O’Hara (6-4), and Archbishop Carroll (9-5).

So it wasn’t all that surprising that in their last three games against St. Hubert’s, Bonner-Prendergast, and Little Flower, Nazareth won them all by respective scores of 7-1, 3-1, and 9-1. The three victories by a composite 19-3 earned the Pandas a playoff in their first season as members of the PCL.

In their quarterfinal playoffs 3:45 Monday at Archbishop Carroll, the Pandas will try to rectify a 9-5 loss against the Patriots on April 15. Nazareth has not lost since.

“We are excited and proud to have made the playoffs in our first year in the PCL,” said Nazareth Academy coach Danielle Vititto. “We are no stranger to strong competition coming from the Catholic Academies League and wanted to make a good showing our first year here. We happened to be lined up against Ryan, Conwell, and Wood at the top of our season and took some lumps. It gave us great content for some mid-season adjustments. We are not the same team as we were in March. The girls have made great progress in all aspects of the game and have a lot to be proud of. 

“We knew our playoff hopes were on the line when we faced Bonner. Our pitcher, (junior) Jill DiMario, threw extremely well, only letting up four hits and one run. We got a big two-run single from (junior) Haley Kober in the first inning. Defensively, we saw adjustments come to life. Our centerfielder, (junior) Emily Richer, had a very strong day as well, but overall it was a real team effort and a win they were very proud of. The pride was not solely for the win of that game, but also that it gave us a chance for playoffs, which was clinched after our win over Little Flower. 

“The Catholic Academies League did not have playoffs. Where you finished in the league at the end of the season was the end of it. If you had a rough start or some key players were hurt, you didn’t get a second chance until districts.  Making it in the PCL playoffs in our first year being part of the league is very special, and we know the girls feel that. However, just making it has never been their goal. That was just step one. Now they get that second chance and are looking to show their growth against some powerhouse PCL teams. To say they are pumped and excited for next week would be an understatement.”


 (Contact John Knebels at or on ‘X’ – formerly Twitter – @johnknebels.)