by Tom Utescher
Germantown Friends ended its softball season in the quarterfinal round of Pennsylvania Independent Schools tournament last week, and the Tigers will be able to look back on a milestone season for the GFS program.
After inching ever closer to the Friends Schools League championship over the past several seasons, Germantown broke through and won the 2015 title, coming from behind against both Friends Central in the semifinals (4-3) and George School in the finals (15-12).
With poor weather conditions limiting the game action seen by the squad over the first month of the season, the Tigers were 2-3 in the middle of April and 2-2 in league play. From there, they ran off eight straight wins, including the two in the FSL tournament. Seeded seventh for the PAIS championships, they fell to second-seeded Episcopal Academy, 6-0, in a road game last Tuesday.
Improving in the league standings after sitting at .500 four games in, GFS ended up with an 8-2 mark that secured the second seed for the FSL tourney. While number one Friends Select took on fourth-ranked George School in the other semifinal game, Germantown would face three-time defending champion Friends Central, the third seed this year.
GFS ended the first inning in a 1-1 tie with the Phoenix; in the home half, senior Liana Spiro tripled and then scored on a sacrifice bunt by classmate Magda Andrews-Hoke. However, FC edged ahead later on, 3-2, and that score was still on the board when the Tigers took up their bats for the final time.
They got down to business and loaded the bases, and then senior Sophie Trotto singled to left field to drive in the tying and winning runs for the victorious Tigers. The team had gotten by a major stumbling block; after recording a perfect regular season in the league in 2014, GFS had been upset in the semi’s by the same team, Friends Central.
In the finals, also played on Germantown’s home field, George School jumped on GFS early, and after they’d batted at the top of the fifth, the Cougars held a seemingly secure lead, 10-4.
Junior Lizzie Becker, in the circle as usual for the Tigers, would end up with seven strike-outs and four walks.
“We helped them by committing some errors,” said second-year head coach Steph Aurello. “Lizzie definitely pitched better than you would think if you just looked at their 12 runs in the game.”
But GFS batters would force mistakes by the Cougars, too, and along with some key hits, the Tigers charged ahead with 11 runs in the bottom of the fifth. They showed their tenacity at the plate by scoring nine of those runs with two outs against them.
Sophomore Hannah Hanson whacked a two-run double to left that brought the hosts even with George at 12-all, then Germantown piled on another three to reach its final total. The Cougars got two runs back in the sixth, but were held scoreless in the top of the seventh by the triumphant Tigers.
The season swansong came in the PAIS tournament against Episcopal, the 2015 Inter-Ac League co-champion along with Penn Charter, and the defending champion in the Indy Schools tournament. Princeton-bound pitcher Alex Viscusi dominates most of EA’s opponents, and she rang up 13 strike-outs against the Tigers, getting them out in order six times.
With one out in the top of the fourth, GFS had Andrews-Hoke wait out the lone walk issued by the Episcopal ace all afternoon. A runner put in for the GFS catcher reached second on a passed ball, but later was caught in a rundown between second and third. A ground out retired the side.
The Churchwomen scored their first three runs in the bottom of the first inning, and their last three in the third. Germantown’s Becker struck out six, and she and the GFS defense were able to record one-two-three innings against the EA batters in the second and the sixth. The Churchwomen began to filter some of their reserves into the game late in the day, but the Tigers were still facing quality players.
“Lizzie pitched her heart out,” the Tigers’ Aurello said. “They got in a couple good knocks that helped them score, but we didn’t let them go crazy. As I said to the girls, this is probably one of the best teams in the region. Their pitcher is phenomenal and their whole team is really solid, and we hung in there for seven innings.”
Becker has been a three-year mainstay for the Tigers, but last spring GFS graduated two key catalysts in their recent rise, catcher Rachel Allison and shortstop Maddie Andrews. Andrews-Hoke stepped in behind the plate, while Trotto shifted from second base to short and handed her old spot over to senior classmate Lydia Harvey.
“Sophie moved over there and not only played well, but really developed as a leader,” Aurello remarked. “She and Liana and Lizzie were great captains for us. We had a lot of people step up, like Lydia, who becomes a starter at second base and then ends up with the least number of errors on the team.”
Every year, the softball “IQ” within the program appears to improve.
“I think they only started the sport here in the nineties,” Aurello pointed out, “and it takes time to be able to develop players coming up from middle school. Obviously, winning the league for the first time is going to create some excitement about softball.
“You couldn’t ask for a better group of girls,” the skipper summed up. “They have great personalities, and they get along very well.”