The members of Penn Charter's softball team display their medals and the PAISAA championship plaque after last Friday's final at Arcadia University. (Photo by Tom Utescher) by Tom Utescher For the …
by Tom Utescher
For the Penn Charter softball team, a journey that began in March near the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee ended on the diamond at Arcadia University last Friday afternoon. After becoming undefeated champions of the Inter-Ac League earlier in the month, the Quakers won the 2019 Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools title on May 24, defeating the Academy of Notre Dame, 5-1, in the tournament finals.
PC garnered the two runs it would actually need for the victory in the first inning, and the Irish posted their lone run at the top of the third. PC tacked on two more in the bottom of the third and added its final run in the sixth inning.
Springside Chestnut Hill Academy had won the Indy Schools tournament in 2018, ending a string of PC victories. In 2015, the Quakers had taken the title from defending champ Episcopal Academy, and they kept the crown in 2016 and 2017.
Longtime PC head coach Donald "Doc" Mittica and all of his charges felt that a spring break training trip to the Cal Ripken Experience in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. helped set the tone for a successful 2019 campaign.
It was there that team members from all four high school grades bonded and formed, in their own words, a kind of "cult." That word was often seen inked across the four fingers of many Quakers players, and it adorned the arms of a few of them even on the final day of the season.
Senior third baseman and team co-captain Abby Quinn related, "Doc always does these presentations about team dynamics, and in Tennessee one of them was about the team culture. We sort of joked about it because we're always so close we call ourselves a cult. It just stuck."
Quinn has signed to play softball with West Chester University, and the other senior captain, first baseman Abby Mannion, will attend the University of Pennsylvania. Coach Mittica was very impressed with the way the two 12th graders handled their leadership responsibilities with a young team that had just two seniors and two juniors on the roster.
"They helped all the kids, and they never looked down on anybody," he said. "They just worked really hard bringing this team together. Our juniors had the same approach, and this ended up being one of the most cohesive teams I've ever coached."
As Mannion explained, "The mindset is that we're serious on the field, but at the same time it's a sport and we want playing to be fun. You play better that way. I think the young kids also know that the game means a lot to the upperclassmen, so they kind of do it for us, too."
The younger girls may be relatively new to PC, but most of them are experienced travel team softball players.
"Everyone loves the game and loves playing for our school," Mannion said.
Nearby rival SCH had won both the Inter-Ac and PAIS championships in 2018, when the Blue Devils had begun their season down at the Ripken complex in Tennessee.
In their 2019 Inter-Ac opener in early April, the Quakers overcame the defending champs, 4-3.
"Springside beat us three times last year, so that first win over them this season made us realize what we could accomplish," Mittica explained. "Then we beat Episcopal and then Notre Dame, and our confidence just grew."
Quinn noted, "One thing about our freshman starters was that they didn't know much about those league rivalries, so none of that bothered them."
PC's undefeated run to the Inter-Ac League championship included a pair of victories over the Irish of Notre Dame, by a 4-3 score on May 3, and 7-3 just over a week later.
As the eight-team Independent Schools tournament began on May 17, the top-seeded Quakers conquered number eight Perkiomen School, 22-3. Also winning their quarterfinal contests were the second seed, Notre Dame, third-seeded SCH and number five Hill School. On Tuesday of last week, junior pitcher Anastasia Lewis led PC to an 8-0 victory over Hill, while Notre Dame knocked out defending champ SCH, 9-5.
The Quakers and the Irish both traveled to Arcadia on Thursday, when the finals were originally to be played, but the forecast for rainy weather held true and everyone went home. Fortunately, predictions for beautiful weather the next day also proved accurate.
With two outs at the top of the first inning, Notre Dame senior catcher Sophia Haub singled, but Lewis then retired the side with the first of her three strikeouts.
PC junior Maddie Solow lined a single to right center field to start off the Quakers on the flip side of the inning. After she stole second, she went to third on a passed ball. Notre Dame had experienced some difficulties due to passed balls and wild pitches and passed balls in its semifinal game against SCH, and these problems persisted.
After a strikeout and then a walk to Mannion, Notre Dame had the ball come loose behind the plate again. Solow came home from third to score the first run of the day while Mannion made it to second base. The PC senior went to third when her classmate, Quinn, flied out down the right field line. Mannion scored when freshman catcher Luciana Boggi homed in on the second pitch thrown to her and smacked a single through the left side of the infield.
A strikeout ended the inning, but the Quakers had secured a 2-0 lead.
The second stanza started with a walk, then Quinn chalked up the first out as she dashed over to grab a foul pop that was almost out of play. PC showed its defensive resilience on the next play. First, the Quakers misjudged a ball lofted to shallow center, but the runner coming from first base hesitated while watching the ball in the air, and PC recovered quickly and was able to secure a forceout at second.
The top of the second ended with another strikeout for PC's Lewis, but Notre Dame's own junior pitcher, Grace Jackson, struck out the side in the bottom of the inning.
The Irish closed up the score to 2-1 in the top of the third, beginning with a single lined between third and short by their pitcher's younger sister, Hannah Jackson. She went to second on a hit up the middle by the leadoff batter, Caroline Adams, then the two baserunners moved to second and third when Grace Jackson bunted and PC's Lewis fielded the ball and got the out at first.
Next, a grounder hit to the Quakers' pitcher produced another out at first base, but Notre Dame got a run home on the play. Lewis also had the third putout of the inning on another ground ball, leaving an Irish baserunner on third.
Leading off in the home half, Solow hit a relatively soft line drive and the ball popped out of the outstretched glove of the third baseman. Lewis singled down the line in right, then returned to the dugout as freshman Madi Brooks came in to run for her.
A sacrifice bunt by Mannion moved the PC runners to second and third base, and cleanup hitter Quinn came up to bat. The Irish missed a chance to defuse this threat when they dropped a pop-up in foul territory. Quinn then hit the ball in the air again, but this time it was a sacrifice fly deep to right field than brought home PC's third run.
Boggi then smoked a single through the middle to make it 4-1 before a strikeout brought the third round to an end.
As the fourth inning got underway, PC had a chance to nail each of Notre Dame's first two batters when they put the ball in play to the infield, but throwing errors resulted in the two Irish players getting on base with no outs.
Doc Mittica now walked out to the circle for a timeout talk.
He related, "I just said, 'Calm down – we got in this position but we can get out of it. The main thing is to get sure outs."
Lewis took the first step by striking out the next batter, then sophomore second baseman Averie Schnupp snapped up a ground ball and threw to first for the second out. Freshman shortstop Kamryn Koslosky pocketed a pop-up, and Quakers had preserved their three-run lead.
They couldn't add to their advantage in the bottom of the inning, though, as a single over short by sophomore Neilee Koslosky with two outs was followed by a strikeout.
The first AND batter popped out to start the fifth, then the Quakers soon found themselves in another jam. Grace Jackson was hit by a pitch, and because of her speed, the Irish do not use a courtesy runner for her. She beat PC's throw to second to avoid a forceout on a ground ball put in play by Haub, and then a passed ball let the Notre Dame baserunners get to second and third, still with one out.
Once more, the PC players extracted themselves from a potentially dangerous predicament. On a foul pop, Boggi ran quite a ways out from behind the plate to make the grab for the second out. Next, on a bunt to the left side, Quinn made a long hard throw to first to retire the Irish.
"They've done that a number of times this season," Mittica noted. "In one game in Tennessee we were ahead, but in the seventh, the other team loaded the bases with no outs, and we got out of it. When you go through those tests and you're successful, you learn to trust yourself in those situations."
As PC came to bat in the bottom of the fifth, Schnupp was seen throwing some warmup pitches behind the dugout, but the Quakers would never need her to enter the circle. The Notre Dame hurler, Jackson, was still performing well, notching two more strikeouts as PC went down in order.
At the top of the sixth, the Irish couldn't get much going, either. Right fielder Katie Bradley singled with two outs, but was left on first.
In the home half, Boggi's impressive day in the batter's box continued as she drove a ball to right center that bounced to the foot of the fence. She ended up with a triple, giving the third baseman a bump by way of greeting when she arrived. Junior Emily Spencer came in to run for the Quakers' catcher, and it was she who scored on a groundout by Kamryn Koslosky.
Although the second and third outs quickly followed, PC had increased its lead to four runs, and the Irish now had just three outs to work with.
They had their leadoff hitter, Adams, up to bat, and she blooped a ball in the air to shallow right center that looked like it might drop in for a hit. It didn't, though, as Neilee Koslosky charged in to catch the ball on the fly.
Grace Jackson hit a slow roller to the left side and made it to first, and then she moved up to second when Haub lobbed a single into shallow left field. Notre Dame then was down to one out remaining when a pop with a low trajectory was caught by Kamryn Koslosky at short.
It was one of the seniors who would put the game away, as a grounder was hit down the first base line toward Mannion.
"I don't have the ball come to me that much," she said. "I usually just run to the bag and have someone throw it to me. But I saw this one and I said 'Hey, it's coming right at me.' So, I just grabbed it and went to the base."
In the next instant, PC was celebrating its fourth tournament championship in five years. From Tennessee to Glenside, the 2019 Quakers had come a long way.