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SOFTBALL: Resilient Archbishop Wood Advances to State Semifinals for First Time

By John Knebels. Photos: Laura Higdon, 06/07/24, 7:45PM EDT


By: John Knebels

PHILADELPHIA – Victory assured after her walk-off double, Archbishop Wood senior Parker Kraus casually ambled off second base before a barrage of Vikings greeted her with hugs, love-shoves, and high-fives.

If it didn’t look like the lightning quick outfielder was psyched out of her mind, don’t let appearances fool ya.

“I was coached from a young age to ‘act like you’ve been there before,’” said Kraus. “Doesn’t mean I wasn’t crazy excited. I was ecstatic. Any game now could be my last with these girls. I just want to take it all in.” 

Archbishop Wood had just made history in a 10-inning clash that literally defined the word “classic.” In a PIAA Class 4A quarterfinal at Central Columbia High School in Bloomsburg, PA, on June 6, the Vikings ignored District 9 champion St. Mary’s gaudy 18-2 record and defeated the Flying Dutchmen, 5-4, to reach the state semifinals for the first time ever and secure a date with District 11 champ Elizabeth Forward High School 4:00 Monday at Norlo Park Softball Complex in Chambersburg. 

Advancing to the semis represented major cause for celebration by itself, but it was Wood’s unrelenting resilience that left players, coaches, spectators, and maybe even umpires emotionally exhausted.

“From the very first inning, we knew that it was going to be a battle,” said Archbishop Wood coach Jackie Ecker. “I have never seen a group of girls play more together as a team than I did today. I am beyond proud of what they have accomplished. They have worked so hard and deserve this win. What an incredible game and an incredible group of young ladies.”

Like in all great stories, Wood’s victory included numerous integral contributions.

Where to begin?

Down 1-0 in the third, the Vikings tied the game when senior Julia Yogis bunt-singled with one out. A second out later, senior Maura Yoos doubled to center field. With runs tough to harvest, Ecker pushed in all her chips and waved the not-exactly-fleet – but very savvy – Yogis toward home. On a bang-bang play, Yogis beat the tag to tie the game at 1-1.

“Oh my God, I was so scared,” said a playful Yogis, “but I’m used to it. Coach Jackie always thinks I’m faster than I am. I see her as I’m halfway to third and I can see her screaming ‘Go,’ so I really tried to pick up the speed and just run as fast as I can. Thankfully, I’ve gotten the hang of the (outside) slide, so that always comes in handy when I can see the ball coming to the plate from the outfield.”

Yogis again ignited a run in the fifth with a single to center. Yoos later singled, and an errant throw to third allowed Yogis to score the go-ahead run. Undaunted, St. Mary’s tied the game at 2-2 in the sixth, setting the stage for roller-coaster extra innings. 

After St. Mary’s took a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth, the Eastern University-bound Yoos delivered arguably the most important hit of her sterling career with a lead-off triple, her third hit of the game. Sophomore Allie Higdon diligently scored the speedy Yoos with a grounder to first to tie the game at 3-3.

“Being down a run and starting off the inning, I knew I needed to get on base and trust the other girls to work me home,” said Yoos, a 2023 first-team all-state selection and three-time, first-team All-Catholic. “It felt really good seeing the ball go over her head, and it was really clutch for Allie to put it in play to get me home.” 

After a scoreless ninth, both teams moved onto international softball rules in which both teams begin innings with runners on second base. In the 10th, St. Mary’s was able to forge a 4-3 lead, but Archbishop Wood sophomore pitcher Jackie Cobb did her job by preventing more damage.

“I knew that if I let the first run in, my team could get it back for me,” said Cobb, who allowed only eight hits and one walk while striking out seven, with 82 of her 107 pitches – 77 percent if your phone calculator is on the fritz – going for strikes. “The goal is for me to only let up one. That was not my first time experiencing the tiebreaker, so I knew what to expect.”

Archbishop senior Parker Kraus #11 hits a double in the bottom of the 10th inning to Propel the Vikings to first-ever state semifinal appearance - GameChanger Video Courtesy of Archbishop Wood

Archbishop Wood gathers together to celebrate their first-ever trip to the PIAA state semifinals - Video Courtesy of Sue O’Neill

Needing a run to tie, junior Katherine Freligh was the last out of the ninth and placed on second base to start the 10th. Sophomore Shannon Muncer came in to pinch run. Facing a second straight mega-important situation after having already produced an RBI in the eighth, Higdon once again defined the word “clutch” when she sliced a game-tying double to furnish the fourth deadlock of the game at 4-4.

“In the eighth, I didn’t feel nervous because I had already put the ball in play the majority of the game leading up to that at bat,” said Higdon. “I just knew that I had to put the ball in play somehow so we could tie up the game. After my hit (in the 10th), it was a relief to know the game was tied with me in scoring position, and that we were in a good spot with Parker coming up to bat with only one out.”

Tapping into the chronicles of irony, junior Maya McGrory entered the game to pinch run at second. In the Philadelphia Catholic League 2022 final, it was McGrory – serving as a pinch runner – who scored the walk-off, championship-winning run from third.

And after Kraus, a two-time, first-team All-Catholic, slugged a 1-1 pitch over the left fielder’s lead, McGrory took off for home. With a euphoric Ecker barely able to contain her utter glee from the third-base coaching line, McGrory stepped on home plate, where she was met by delirious teammates.

Déjà vu? You bet.

“As I was running from third to home, the PCL championship was my exact thought,” said McGrory. “That was the very first thing I said when I touched home plate. This was a little different. For the PCL championship, all I could think was ‘don't get out,’ especially because I was a freshman. But this time, I was confident that I was going to make it home and score the run.”

At the plate for a Wood team that outhit St. Mary’s by 14 to 8 – including two singles apiece by junior Haley Kley and Cobb – Viking seniors Kraus, Yoos, and Yogis combined to go 8-for-14 with three runs scored, two runs batted in, a double, and a triple.

Individual statistics, however, don’t matter much to this group of upperclassmen who have stamped their collective imprint onto one of the program’s most potent stretches. Consider: In their four years together, Archbishop’s regular season record was 26-11 with a PCL playoff record of 6-3, three losses in the playoff semifinals, and a glorious championship in 2022. Add to that a 4-3 mark in the PIAA tournament, and heading into the state semifinals, Wood seniors’ overall career record stands at 36-17, an imposing winning percentage of .679.

So when Kraus, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County signee says, “There were so many big plays in the game – Maura and Allie's big hits and Jackie keeping us in the game for 10 innings – I was just happy to contribute,” that sentiment is real.

Yogis concurred.

“This was our biggest game besides the PCL championship,” said Yogis, who will play at Widener University next year. “This game meant so much. Knowing we never made it past this round before, we needed to play hard and leave everything on the field.

“Having Maura come up and knock me in both times felt incredible. It felt fitting since we’ve been best friends and played together since we were six years old. Watching Maura and Parker absolutely dominate and step up was so amazing, and I was so proud of them. I think knowing our time playing together would come to an end if we lost really made something click, and we didn’t want our time together to end yet. It’s just a really cool thing to be a state semifinalist, and I’m so lucky it was in my senior year.”

The PCL joined the PIAA for the 2008-09 athletic season. In the league’s 15 seasons of competition (2020 canceled because of COVID), Archbishop Wood is one of only five teams to win a game, one of only two to win more than three games, the first ever to win at least one game in three consecutive seasons, and only the fourth team to reach the state semifinals, joining Lansdale Catholic (2014) and Conwell-Egan (2024, thanks to a 4-2 win on June 7, and 2022, when they lost in the state final).

Including this season so far, the collective tournament record of the PCL is a subpar 19-53. Archbishop Wood (4-6, .400), however, owns the best winning percentage, followed by Conwell-Egan (7-11, .389), Lansdale Catholic (3-5, .375), Archbishop Ryan (3-10, .231), and St. Hubert’s (2-9, .182). Cardinal O’Hara (0-3), Bonner-Prendergast (0-3), Archbishop Carroll (0-2), Neumann-Goretti (0-2), and since-closed Kennedy Kenrick (0-2) have yet to advance past the first round.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Wood’s 2024 dance continues.

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