by Tom Utescher

Rachael Garnick, Penn Charter’s sophomore second baseman, makes a throw to first base. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Both the Springside School and Penn Charter softball squads were both strong contenders for the Girls Inter-Ac League and Pa. Independent Schools championships, but each team fell a little short of the pinnacle they’d hoped to reach this spring.

With a league record of 11-1, Agnes Irwin took the Inter-Ac title outright, but the Owls did not participate in the Indy schools tournament. Runner-up Penn Charter (9-3 Inter-Ac), which was responsible for Irwin’s lone league loss, suffered two costly setbacks against the Academy of Notre Dame in in Inter-Ac competition. In the postseason tourney, the Quakers defeated Baldwin (15-0) and Shipley (13-9) to reach the finals, but then succumbed 6-3 to Friends Schools League Champion Abington Friends, a team they had beaten in a non-league regular-season clash.

Springside tied Agnes Irwin for the Inter-Ac title in 2010. This spring, the Lions took two games from Notre Dame, the only league team which swept Penn Charter, but when Springside met the Quakers head-to-head, PC won 8-4 at home and 13-3 on the road.

Losing twice to Irwin, as well, Springside finished third in the league with an 8-4 record, tying with Notre Dame. Opening the Indy tournament with a 2-0 victory over Friends Central, the Lions were eliminated in the semifinals by Abington Friends, 10-6.

Springside took a 3-0 lead over AFS in the first inning, and was up by the same score with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. It looked like the visiting Lions would end the inning on a fly ball, but an error in the outfield gave new life to the Kangaroos.

“That gave them momentum, and their bats came to life,” related Springside coach Stephanie Mill.

Abington scored six times before the inning was finally over, and then added four more runs in the sixth.

“We couldn’t quite put the runs together like they did,” Mill remarked. “They did all of their scoring in two innings.”

It was Abington which gained an early lead over Penn Charter in the tournament finals at Rosemont College, taking a 4-0 advantage into the bottom of the fifth frame. Scoring once in that inning and closing up the score to 4-3 in the sixth, Charter yielded two runs to the ‘Roos in the top of the seventh to go down 6-3.

“We left the bases loaded twice, and we left runners at second and third twice,” lamented Quakers coach “Doc” Mittica. “We couldn’t get the hit when we needed it and we made two errors that cost four runs.
“They had a much more mature team than ours, with five seniors,” he added.

One of Penn Charter’s three departing seniors, third baseman Mackenzie Kramer, will continue her softball career at Muhlenberg College. First baseman and clean-up batter Katie Brock is headed for Duke University, and reserve pitcher Kate Faigen will attend Kenyon College.

At the beginning of the season, Mittica calculated that in order to capture at least a share of the league title, “We had to split with Notre Dame and with Agnes Irwin. We had to run the table on the rest of the teams, and someone besides us had to beat Irwin once.”

Irwin wound up with just one Inter-Ac loss, and PC fell twice to the Irish.

“In the second Notre Dame game there was a scoring mishap,” Mittica revealed, “and we made a move we wouldn’t have made knowing the actual score.”

Mittica was pleasantly surprised with how effectively freshman Christina Kubach filled the catcher’s role, and he said that sophomore pitcher Jess Drossner “made a really big step up from last year to this year.”

“I told her she didn’t have to carry us,” the coach went on. “She just had to do her job and keep us in games, and that’s what she did. We’re going to work on having her locate her balls with a little more speed, and become more consistent with her off-speed pitches.”

Looking to 2012, Mittica said that there are several prospects moving up from Penn Charter’s eighth grade team, and there may also be an experienced pitcher coming in from an outside grade school.

Springside loses four players to graduation from its 2011 roster. Third baseman Brenna Coll is moving on to Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, where she was recruited to play basketball. Centerfielder Asha Deane will attend Emory University and left fielder Emma Korein has picked Bates College. Dom Jones, a power hitter whose season was cut short by an ankle injury, is bound for George Washington University.

The Lions did not fare as well in the league as a year ago, despite scoring 106 total runs compared to 78 in 2010.

This spring, pitchers had to cope with the mound officially being moved back from 40 to 43 feet, and Coach Mill noted, “That helped us offensively, but it helped other teams offensively, too.”

The Lions didn’t suffer from a dearth of hits, but the key, as always, is getting them in the right sequence.

“We had 13 hits against Agnes Irwin both times, and we lost each game 8-5,” Springside’s skipper said. “We left a lot of runners on base in our games with Penn Charter, too.”

Last year the Lions graduated a five-year varsity pitcher, Natalie Klotz, and her replacement was sophomore Michelle Cybularz, who had seen very little action for Springside in 2010.

“It wasn’t a surprise that Michelle’s strike-outs to walks ratio wasn’t as good as Natalie’s last year,” Mill said, “but I think Michelle is ahead of where Natalie was as a sophomore.”

Mill expects an even higher level of competition in the league next season, since the top teams all have their primary pitchers back, along with many strong position players. She noted that the only freshman to make the varsity squad this year, second baseman Jenna Moriarty, has a sister, Julia, who will be moving up from the Lions’ eighth-grade team. In addition, several members of the younger Moriarty’s club team will be entering Springside next fall, so the Lions could be in the thick of the Inter-Ac hunt in 2012.