by Tom Utescher
When Nazareth Academy was unable to make the trip from Northeast Philly to Norwood Fontbonne for a scheduled Girls Catholic Academies League softball game last Monday, the NFA Bears didn’t want to waste a beautiful spring afternoon.
They were able to find a non-league opponent only about 15 minutes away, as the middle school squad from Germantown Friends came to call. Although Norwood is a young team, with just one eighth-grader and five fifth-graders on the varsity roster, the Bears have more playing experience than the girls in the Tigers’ developmental program, some of whom are entirely new to the sport.
With a lot of run production in the middle innings, NFA was able to record its first victory in three outings this season, winning 12-3. GFS, which showed that a number of its players are getting the hang of the game, had one loss and one tie in its two previous performances.
For this game Alyssa Slovensky, the lone eighth-grader on the NFA roster and the regular starting pitcher, switched positions with first baseman MaryKate Ciolko, a seventh-grader. GFS went with eighth-grader Maya Rabinowotz in the circle for most of the game, although seventh-grader Eliana Warshal came in to face four batters in the fifth inning.
After getting the Tigers out in order at the top of the first, Norwood got going with a single through the left side of the infield by Ciolko, the lead-off batter. Two outs followed, but then the Bears’ baserunner reached third safely on a fielder’s choice batted up by Katherine Christen. Next, NFA’s first run scored on an error before GFS collected the third out.
The visitors pulled even at 1-1 at the top of the second inning. The Tigers’ Tsega Zegeye Afessa drew a walk, stole second, and then went to third on a sacrifice grounder by Rabinowitz. On a ball hit towards short by Cassie Coale, Norwood did not throw home in time to prevent the tying run from crossing the plate.
With two outs in the home half, Germantown gave up a single to NFA fifth-grader Ryan Hendrzak, but then ended the inning with a put-out by shortstop Kat Maguire. Both Maguire and second baseman Afessa showed the potential to develop into solid infielders.
The 1-1 count remained on the scoreboard until the bottom of the third, when Norwood moved ahead for good with a four-run spurt. Sophie Gilbert had the only bona fide hit here, but other batters made contact and some GFS miscues kept runners circling around the bases.
Germantown got one run back at the top of the fourth, starting out with a walk to Maguire, who progressed to third base through a passed ball and a steal. She eventually scored on a sacrifice grounder by Rabinowitz.
The Bears responded with another four runs in their next turn at bat. After Germantown’s Maguire snagged a line drive at shortstop for the first out, Norwood had Ciolko wait out a walk and then had Lauren Slovensky (another of the team’s fifth graders) reach first on an error.
Slovensky’s big sister, Alyssa, was next up to bat, and she cleared the bases with a three-run homer over the head of the Tigers’ centerfielder.
After the next batter was tagged out trying to stretch a one-base hit into a double, Kara Kniezewski whacked the ball into centerfield and just kept on running. Before Germantown could relay the ball to the infield, Kniezewski had made it back to home plate safely, and the Bears took a 9-2 lead into the fifth frame.
With one out in the top of the fifth, the Tigers’ Naomi Laver put a grounder in play and beat out Norwood’s throw to first. The next batter struck out, but Laver had moved up to second base on a passed ball. She stole ahead to third, then scored on a single up the middle by Olivia Trotto. Maguire drew a walk to give GFS runners on first and second, then the Bears retired the side by gloving a pop-up.
The Tigers experimented with Warshal in the pitching circle to begin the bottom of the inning, deciding beforehand that she would throw to four batters. The first three players up to the plate for Norwood drew walks to load the bases, but before she left the circle, Warshal finished up with a strike-out.
Rabinowitz returned as pitcher for the visitors, and the first hitter she faced, Ciolko, doubled right across third base and down the left field line, bringing two runners home and moving another to third. This set up a sacrifice grounder to the right side of the infield by Lauren Slovensky, and the final score of 12-3 was now on the board.
After a base-on-balls for the next NFA hitter, Rabinowitz wrapped up the inning with a strike-out. Cushla Standefer began the top of the sixth with a single along the first base line, but then she became one of the victims of a double play, getting caught off first after Ciolko caught a pop-up for the first out. A GFS ground-out to the Bears’ pitcher ended the ballgame.