by Tom Utescher
It came less than halfway through the Inter-Ac League softball schedule, but last Tuesday’s tilt at Episcopal Academy was a major waypoint on the road to the 2015 championship. Current titleholder EA and the visiting Penn Charter Quakers both brought 4-0 records to the fray, and it was PC that remained unbeaten, taking a 4-0 lead and then surviving a two-run rally by the Churchwomen in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The 4-2 victory resulted in an overall mark of 14-0 for Charter, which was the third-place team in the Inter-Ac last year and was responsible for the lone blemish on Episcopal’s 11-1 league record. PC senior Kayla Quinn, who plans to play for Ursinus College, went the distance while logging six strike-outs and four walks. Episcopal’s senior hurler, Princeton-bound Alex Viscusi, struck out four and walked three.
Agnes Irwin was the runner-up in the league last year and earned the same outcome in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament, topping PC in the semifinals and then falling to EA in the title game. However, Irwin has struggled both in and out of the Inter-Ac this spring, and PC and Episcopal are clearly the major title contenders.
However, in Philadelphia area polls and publications, EA has received a lot more attention than Penn Charter.
“We felt we were very underestimated,” said Quinn, a team co-captain along with junior shortstop Eileen Hennessy. “Our approach to the game was that we were trying to prove ourselves, show people that we were a force to be reckoned with.
“We wanted to get some hits, get one run at a time, and play strong ‘D’,” she continued. “We knew that with our deep line-up we’d be able to get a hit somewhere and that would start us off.”
Hennessy agreed, “Our team felt really overlooked. But we think that we have the deepest team in the league, so we came in thinking positively, that we should beat them. It was a big game in our league and we came together as a team. I’m really proud of our young players, the way they stepped up.”
The game began with PC sophomore Brigitte Gutpelet drawing a walk from Viscusi, but the EA hurler and her teammates dispatched the next nine PC batters. The score was 0-0 through three innings as the Churchwomen couldn’t generate much offense, either. Going down in order in the bottom of the first, Episcopal got a batter on with a walk in the second inning and had another get hit by a pitch in the third, but the hosts didn’t get anyone past second base.
The PC batters knew that they’d just have to keep plugging away, realizing that it wouldn’t be easy to get to Viscusi.
“We have a lot of respect for her,” Hennessy said. “The thing you really have to watch out for with her is that she has a really nice high rise ball. You hit that, and it just goes straight up.”
“It’s a devastating pitch,” commented PC head coach “Doc” Mittica. “At this level you don’t see too many rise balls like that. Even though the ball looks so big coming in at you, you have to try and lay off that. We need to work on that some more.”
Leading off at the top of the fourth, PC’s Quinn was patient enough to draw a walk from the EA ace, then Hennessey drove a hit across third base. She reached second as the Churchwomen were slow to get the ball in from the outfield, and Quinn wound up on third. Next, Charter sophomore Angela Zeidler popped the ball high in the air and back toward the backstop. EA’s 10th-grade catcher, Brooke Royer, scrambled back to make the catch up against the wire fencing, but she momentarily forgot about the runner on third base, and Quinn scored the Quakers’ first run.
Hennessy, who had gone to third, came home on the following play. Freshman Grace Stansfield put the ball in play to the second baseman and the hosts opted to try and get an out at the plate. The throw was not in time to nail Hennessy, who scored standing up and then tumbled down.
The resulting 2-0 tally stayed on the board up until the sixth inning, as EA batters went down in order in the fourth and fifth, and the Quakers did the same in their half of the fifth frame.
With one out in the top of the sixth Hennessy singled, and soon she was on second thanks to a wild pitch. When Zeidler walked and the ball was not held at the plate, Hennessy made it to third. While Stansfield was in the batter’s box, Charter stole second.
When the freshman made contact, she lofted the ball just far enough into centerfield for the Quakers to send their runner from third. The catch was made in center, but there was no play at the plate. The throw from the outfield tracked about a dozen feet up the third base line, well away from the waiting Royer. PC now led 3-0.
Junior Devon Loftus whacked a base hit through the legs of Viscusi and across second base, driving in a fourth run for the visitors. Loftus stole second and headed for third when the ball momentarily got away from Episcopal at second base and rolled toward the outfield. The Churchwomen tracked down the ball quickly, though, and nailed Loftus at third base to retire the side. In the bottom half, EA went down one-two-three for the fourth time in the game.
In the top of the seventh, an EA error that sent the ball out of play landed batter Zoe Neefe on second, and the junior went to third on a sac grounder by sophomore Emily Zurcher. When Hennessy hit the ball to Viscusi in the circle, the hurler was able to feint to first and then catch Neefe off of third base. The Episcopal senior then finished up with a strike-out.
The Churchwomen were down to their final turn with the sticks, and it began well for the hosts, as Viscusi drew a walk and senior shortstop Taylor Long singled through the right side of the infield. When Royer walked on, as well, EA had the bases loaded with no outs, and with the potential tying run stepping up to the plate.
Was the physical strain wearing on PC’s Quinn? Coach Mittica knew her well enough to dismiss that notion.
“She wasn’t tired,” he said. “She gets too pumped up sometimes in situations like that.”
Mittica related that when he huddled with his players in the infield, “I told her to calm down and throttle back a little bit, and to just throw strikes because we were getting to the bottom of their line-up. The other girls were great; they told her if Episcopal hits it, we’ll field it.”
Quinn admitted later that she was a little overanxious, and said that it helped to know she had a supportive defense around her.
The next batter struck out swinging, and Mittica said, “Once Kayla got that first out, I decided the game was hers to win or lose.”
If things had continued to go south, PC would’ve had a pretty good back-up plan; sophomore Faith Fenton had pitched a perfect game against Shipley School less than a week earlier.
After the initial out, the next batter walked, pushing home EA’s first run and keeping the bases loaded. Another run scored when junior Arianna Pompei hit the ball to second baseman Gutpelet, but the PC soph flipped the ball to Hennessy for a force at second, securing the second out.
Next up was number nine hitter Kate Ortlieb. Studying her tendencies, Coach Mittica had Neefe move in a little bit in right field. This proved a clever adjustment, since Neefe was now in position to pocket a ball lined at her by the Episcopal senior, ending the game.
In addition to his ball club’s solid fielding, Mittica felt that his charges handled Viscusi’s pitching relatively well.
“When you go up against a pitcher with a reputation like that, you have to try and demystify it a little bit for the girls,” he said.
He noted that in the past his team had seemed to psych itself out when facing Agnes Irwin ace Katie Wenger (who is now a freshman at Franklin & Marshall and will be joined there next year by EA’s Long).
“We just couldn’t seem to beat her,” Mittca related, “but I reminded the girls that we had hit Viscusi and had won games against her. I always say, the big thing is just make contact, and good things will happen.”
The longtime mentor is pleased to see good things happening for this year’s congregation of Quakers.
“They’re a great group,” he stated. “They really support one another, and they’re fun to watch because they have a little swagger to them. They respect their opponents, but they’re not afraid of anybody.”