by Tom Utescher
Halfway through last Tuesday’s Pa. Independent Schools softball playoff game, it looked as though defending champion Springside Chestnut Hill Academy might be heading back to the finals after all.
Seeded third for the PAIS tournament this time around, SCH was playing a semifinal contest on the road against number two Academy of Notre Dame, and in the middle of the fourth inning, the Blue Devils were ahead 3-0.
Everything changed in the home half of the fourth, as the Irish piled up eight runs and set the stage for a 9-5 victory that ended the Devils’ season.
SCH had won the Inter-Ac League title for two years in a row, but this season the team finished in the middle of the pack, at 5-5. Instead of playing together during spring break, the players had been scattered all over geographically, and a few health problems persisted into the season itself. The kind of intense focus that characterized the 2018 SCH franchise seemed to be missing much of the time in 2019.
SCH graduated three key seniors in 2018 and is sending off three more this June, so the varsity program is bound to have a different look going forward. Tuesday’s tilt at Notre Dame was the swansong for shortstop Mo’ne Davis and center fielder Colebe Oliver, who will be playing for Hampton University and the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown, respectively. The third senior, second baseman Steph DeAngelis, will attend Syracuse University.
The Blue Devils will also be missing another valuable infielder in junior Katie Reagan, who is relocating to Maryland with her family in a few weeks. She will join a strong athletic program at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, Maryland, and will be back in Philadelphia the following year playing for the University of Pennsylvania.
The Blue Devils will have back the young battery that has worked together in many games this season, freshman pitcher Sam Klug and catcher Marissa Wolff, also a ninth-grader. The team’s veteran catcher, junior Erin Fennessy, was still not completely recovered from knee surgery early in the season, and she played first base in a number of games. Fennessy was able to resume catching later on, but illness, not injury, had her out of the lineup for Tuesday’s season finale.
DeAngelis started off the game with a single to shallow center field, then stole second while the next batter struck out. A sacrifice grounder by Davis moved DeAngelis to third, and she scored on a passed ball. Next, Oliver and her eighth-grade sister Courtney each produced base hits. Another Notre Dame passed ball got the siblings to second and third, but a groundout to Irish pitcher Grace Jackson left them on base.
In the home half, Notre Dame got just four batters to the plate (Jackson singled but couldn’t move beyond first base), and at the top of the second the Blue Devils went down in order. With two base hits and a walk, Notre Dame loaded the bases with two outs, but SCH kept the home team off the scoreboard as the elder Oliver gloved a fly ball out in center field.
With one out in the top of the third, SCH’s Reagan drove a line drive down the left field line that skipped off the top of the third baseman’s glove. Next Davis hit a ball that backed up the shortstop, making for a longer throw to second that was too late to force out a sliding Reagan.
The runners stayed put as the next batter fouled out, then they moved to second and third on a passed ball just before a walk to Courtney Oliver loaded the bases. Junior Becca Arnold then hit a ball high in the air that landed in shallow right center as three converging Irish players got their signals crossed. Two baserunners scored, and although a strikeout then retired the side, SCH now had a 3-0 lead.
In the bottom of the third and the top of the fourth, Notre Dame and SCH each went down one-two-three.
It’s not that uncommon in softball games to have an inning where everything just seems to go wrong for the team in the field, and the Blue Devils went through one of these stretches in the bottom of the fourth frame. Six Notre Dame hits, mixed in with some SCH miscues, led to eight runs flowing across the plate for the Irish.
The Devils were down 8-3, but they still had three turns at bat remaining. If they could chip away and get two runs each time, they would be back in front.
They did indeed recoup two runs at the top of the fifth, which began with Reagan driving the ball across third base for a hit. A solidly-struck ball by Davis produced an infield error, and then Colebe Oliver moved the runners to second and third with a groundout.
Following a strikeout for the second out, there was another Notre Dame infield error on a ball put in play by Arnold, and a run scored. The next SCH batter would strike out, but not before a passed ball let another run home, and the score closed up to 8-5 and remained there through the bottom half of the inning.
Chances of the SCH rally continuing faded when the Irish got the first two Blue Devils out at the top of the sixth. DeAngelis then put a little grounder in play and beat the throw to first. Reagan hit the ball to left field, and when the outfielder kicked it by mistake, she reached second base as Arnold went to third. Unfortunately for the visitors, a pop-up left the two runners on base in scoring position.
With two outs in the bottom half, three consecutive singles got a run home for Notre Dame and the 9-5 final score was on the board. SCH went down in order in the seventh, with a fly ball, a strikeout and a groundout.