by Tom Utescher
Edgar Allan Poe found the raven to be an unsettling avian creature, but the bird that has long haunted the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy softball team is the Agnes Irwin Owl. Even the two fifth-year seniors for the SCH Lions had never enjoyed a victory over the Main Line franchise, and their luck didn’t change last Tuesday as their ballclub took on Irwin for the second time this season.
Giving up three runs in the first inning and five more in the second, the Lions fell into an 8-0 hole against Owls sophomore hurler Katie Wenger, who is generally acknowledged to be the best pitcher in the Girls Inter-Ac League this spring. By the end of the fifth, the Lions were back in contention at 8-4, but they couldn’t score again and Irwin reinforced its lead for an 11-4 victory.
The Owls remained undefeated in the Inter-Ac at 6-0 and climbed to 7-1 overall as Wenger finished up with nine strike-outs while giving up three walks and five hits. SCH eighth-grader Maddie Saltzman (6K, 5BB, 11H) threw for six-and-one-third innings, then junior Michelle Cybularz came in to put the ball in play for a pair of ground-outs that retired the side.
“They hit the ball well and scored a lot of runs in the beginning,” said SCH head coach Stephanie Mill. “We chipped away and cut their lead in half, but we weren’t able to string hits together as well as we’re capable of doing.”
Over the past four years, Irwin has won the league championship outright two times and has tied for the title twice. Even when the Owls shared the crown with the Lions in 2010, Irwin lost games to two other league teams but still beat SCH twice head-to-head.
In their first meeting this season, Irwin won 9-4 at home, and as last week’s rematch got underway Wenger helped her own cause with an RBI triple down the right field line. In addition, Taylor Lord and Mia Lambo each singled in a run.
Cybularz led off for the Lions with a single through the left side, but never got past second. After grabbing a fly ball, the Owls intentionally walked SCH senior Alexis Giovinazzo and two strike-outs followed.
A two-run single to left field by Emily Speakman was one of four hits for the visitors in the second inning, and a total of five runs scored for an 8-0 tally. The Lions held at the top of the third, and then got on the board in the bottom half.
Starting a two-out rally, freshman Julia Moriarty put the ball in play to the right side and reached first on an error. In Giovinazzo’s second at-bat of the afternoon Irwin elected to pitch to her, and immediately regretted it. The senior shortstop smashed a line drive to right center for a two-run homer.
The resulting 8-2 score stayed on the board until the bottom of the fifth inning. Once again, a two-out rally for the Lions began with an error on a ball hit by Moriarty. Irwin walked Giovinazzo, then her senior classmate, Aly Markey, lofted a base hit into shallow centerfield. The outfielder couldn’t scoop up the ball on the first try, allowing Markey to make second while both baserunners scored. The fifth frame then ended with a ground-out.
Unfortunately for the home fans, that was as close as the Lions got.
“Our pitch selection wasn’t great,” Mill admitted. “We let some good ones go by and chased some other ones that weren’t as good.”
After Springside Chestnut Hill closed the gap to four runs (8-4), Irwin led off the sixth with an impressive shot down the line in right by Lord, who touched ‘em all for a solo homer. The Owls tacked on their last two points in the seventh, one of the runs coming on a triple to right by junior shortstop Lauren Fortunato.
It was the Lions’ first outing in the second round of Inter-Ac games, so the locals must make sure they don’t falter in the remaining five games while hoping someone else can make a dent in Irwin’s record. That’s not inconceivable, since the Owls still have two games to play against a solid Notre Dame club, and they barely got by Germantown Academy the first time the teams played.
Mill pointed out, “Irwin had to go extra innings against GA, whose record doesn’t tell you how well they’ve been playing. What we have to focus on is the games we have in front of us, and finishing with the highest place we can.”