by Tom Utescher
In the semifinal round of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Softball Tournament, Penn Charter had a one-run deficit expunged from the record when play was halted in the second inning due to rain last Thursday. The visiting Quakers and host Agnes Irwin started from scratch the following afternoon, but at the end of that day’s action, PC was again one run behind, falling to the Owls by a 2-1 tally.
Second-seeded Irwin did all of its scoring in the bottom of the first inning, and number three Penn Charter got one run back at the top of the fourth. PC had runners on second and third when that half-inning ended and then the Quakers left ‘em loaded in the sixth, stranding a total of nine over the course of the ballgame.
“This is a talented team, but very young, and we just couldn’t come up with a hit at the right time,” said longtime Charter head coach “Doc” Mittica. “We had six losses this season [against 15 wins overall] and they were all one-run games, so we don’t need a major overhaul – we need to work on the little things.”
During the Inter-Ac League season, defending champion Charter was the only team able to achieve a split in a home-away series against 2014 titlist Episcopal Academy (11-1). However, an early loss to Springside Chestnut Hill and two setbacks against eventual Inter-Ac runner-up Agnes Irwin hurt the Quakers. They eventually settled into third place with a final league record of 8-4, while Irwin was 9-3.
As the Independent Schools tourney got going at the beginning of last week, PC defeated number six Germantown Friends, 7-1, in a quarterfinal game on Tuesday. In the other tournament quarterfinals, fifth-seeded Springside Chestnut Hill went down, 5-0, at number four Mercersburg Academy, Irwin knocked off number seven Friends Central, 4-3, and top-seeded Episcopal was a 15-0 victor against Shipley, which had earned the eighth seed by beating Hill School in a play-in game, 5-2.
Even before Thursday’s PC-Irwin game got underway, signs of an approaching thunderstorm sent the players back to their buses. When play began, junior pitcher Kayla Quinn led off with a single for the Quakers, then reached third base on sacrifice grounders by freshman Brigitte Gutpelet and senior Kristina Kubach before a pop-out retired the side.
In the bottom half, the Owls also led off with their pitcher, Katie Wenger, a senior who will play for Franklin & Marshall College. She just had time to crush a solo home run to the far reaches of the fenceless centerfield expanse when more weather problems halted play.
Back at it following another stint in the schoolbus, PC dispatched the next three Irwin batters. In the top of the second, freshman Angela Zeidler singled to shallow left and sophomore Devon Loftus drew a walk, and with one out they were standing at second and third thanks to a passed ball. With a 2-2 count on Quakers senior Marissa Samuels, lightning was spotted, and this time the ensuing persistent rainfall caused the contest to be officially postponed.
Warm, sunny weather greeted the teams when they reassembled on Friday afternoon. In the Quakers’ first at bat, two outs were followed by an error that got Kubach to first base, but she never went any farther. As on the day before, Irwin did damage in its first turn with the timber, starting out innocently enough with a walk to Wenger. A ground-out followed but a poor throw over to third in an attempt to hold the baserunner put an Owl on the far corner in scoring position.
A wild pitch allowed the game’s first run to score, but that became a moot point as the next batter, catcher Michala Maciolak, whacked a triple deep to center. Still just a freshman, Maciolak already made a verbal commitment in February to play for Syracuse University.
After the Orange recruit’s rip, a Charter fielding error allowed AI’s second (and final) run to go up on the board. There was still just one out, but PC closed out the Owls with a force at second and a pop-up.
In the next two innings, both defenses clamped down, each team allowing just one walk with a total of seven opposing batters coming to the plate.
Kubach began the fourth frame with a single down the third base line. Sophomore Eileen Hennessy then hit less forcefully to the same side, and by the time the Owls’ third baseman picked up the ball, she felt it was too late for her to make a throw to either first or second. PC continued to attack the left side, as a single along the outfield line by Zeidler scored a run and moved another runner to second.
After a pop-up for the first out, sophomore Ayanna Matthews laid down a sacrifice bunt, advancing the runners to second and third. Irwin ended the threat with a strike-out, and the game’s final score of 2-1 was now cemented on the scoreboard.
The visitors left a runner on second base at the top of the fifth inning, but in the bottom half Irwin posed a more serious threat. A single, a walk, and a hit batter filled the bases with Owls with just one out in the books. PC’s Quinn bore down and reasserted control as she faced the number four and five in the Irwin order, chalking up a strike-out and then catching a pop-up from the next batter.
Charter proceeded to also load the bases with one out, starting off with a line drive to left field by Hennessy. She moved to second on a ground-out, and reached third on a single behind short by sophomore Zoe Neefe. Matthews bunted again, and this time she reached first safely as the Owls focused on holding PC’s lead runner at third base.
The bases-loaded scoring threat quickly dissipated thanks to a double play. Coming out of the circle after a ball that was hit softly and low in the air over toward the third base line, AI’s lanky Wenger reached out to catch the ball before it hit the ground, then threw to third before the Penn Charter runner could get back to the bag.
As the Quakers came to bat for the last time at the top of the seventh, their chances dwindled as the first two batters popped out and struck out. Gutpelet provided a glimmer of hope with a single smacked past the third baseman, but then a ground-out to the first baseman ended the game, and Penn Charter’s season.
Next month’s graduation ceremony will cost Coach Mittica starters Kubach and Samuels, along with utility player and pinch runner Kelsey Hinshaw. He’ll have back his lone junior starter from this season, Quinn, along with his other pitcher, freshman Faith Fenton. The starting infield of Gutpelet, Hennessy, Zeidler, and Emily Zurcher are all freshmen and sophomores, as are two of the outfielders, Loftus and Matthews.
“We were close this year with a very young team,” PC’s skipper summed up. “If we just make some small refinements, we’ll be in good shape next season.”
NOTE: Episcopal took the PAISAA title, winning a postponed semifinal over Mercersburg, 11-2, and topping Irwin, 1-0, in the championship game.