Starting in early May, the inured players for the Blue Devils were back in action, with the exception of a two-year veteran out for the season with an ACL tear.
Back during the long stretches of the 2023 softball season when Springside Chestnut Hill Academy had two or three starters out at a time, betting on the Blue Devils to make it back to the championship game in the Pa. Independent Schools tournament would've seemed an unsound wager.
Starting in early May, the inured players for the Blue Devils were back in action, with the exception of a two-year veteran out for the season with an ACL tear. SCH won its last three regular-season games, and then opened the PAIS tournament with an 8-0 quarterfinal victory over Hill School. In the semifinals, they notched a 9-1 win over a Germantown Academy team that had beaten them twice (2-1 and 1-0) in the Inter-Ac League campaign.
The Blue Devils moved on to last Thursday's championship game, facing Shipley School at Arcadia University. Shipley had lost to SCH, 1-0 in the 2022 PAIS finals, but under a new coach this spring, the Gators brought in an official record of 16-0 and as the Friends Schools League champs once again. They had only been outscored in early scrimmages with Penn Charter and Inter-Ac League champ Episcopal Academy.
There was another one-run outcome in last week's championship game, as Shipley scored in the bottom of the fifth and continued on to a 1-0 victory. Both starting pitchers went the distance, with Shipley senior Maddie Todd striking out 12 batters while giving up two walks and one hit, while SCH eighth-grader Sami Snyder recorded seven strike-outs with no walks and five hits.
Springside Chestnut Hill closed out the season with an overall record of 10-6, and was 5-5 within the Inter-Ac League, finishing third behind Episcopal (9-1) and Germantown Academy (8-2). Episcopal, whose lone league loss came against GA, declined to enter the PAIS tournament.
For four-and-a-half innings in last Thursday's final, the numbers on the scoreboard reflected the name of the Arcadia softball venue, Blankley Field. The first three frames were over quickly, with nine straight outs for each team.
The SCH offense began to stir with one out in the top of the fourth. Number two batter Courtney Oliver hit the ball hard on the ground to the left side, and when the shortstop bobbled the ball slightly, the speedy senior reached first base safely.
Oliver would advance to second on a passed ball, but the batter then struck out. Another Blue Devils senior, Emma Blaszczak, waited out a walk, so there were runners on second and first. Both would be stranded, as Shipley's Todd chalked up another strike-out to retire the side.
With two outs in the bottom of the inning, the Gators got their first girl on base when Todd herself slapped the ball to the left side and was safe thanks to a low throw by the Devils. Fellow senior Maddy Ewald then banged a line drive over second base.
Todd made third on that play, and Shipley was also able to steal second base later on. The threat ended when SCH senior shortstop Faith Scally fielded a grounder and rifled the ball to first base. Junior first baseman Kamaha'o Bode had to stretch out and down to snare the ball, but she got it.
At the top of the fifth it was back to three-up, three-down for the Blue Devils. Shipley's first batter in the bottom half flied out, then freshman Chloe Klein singled through the right side of the infield. Another ninth-grader, Ashley McCauley, drove the ball down the left field line. SCH tried to make a play at third base, but Klein slid under the tag and McCauley wound up on second. During the next at-bat, a low pitch resulted in a passed ball and Klein was able to score from third. The batter then struck out for the third out, but the Gators had a 1-0 lead.
SCH had hopes of erasing that deficit in the top of the sixth, as senior Kaliyani Wardlaw led off with a walk and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Scally. Eighth-grader Callan Curry subbed in as the runner at second base.
She reached third when Oliver singled between third and short. Next, a pop-up right behind second base did not give the runners a chance to advance, and a fly-out sent the Devils back out to the field.
Shipley looked to stage another two-out rally in the home half of the sixth, following a fly ball and a ground-out with singles by Ewald and senior classmate Zoe Manares. The tally remained 1-0 as the next batter lofted a very high fly that was caught in left field.
SCH's last chance to stave off defeat disappeared quickly at the top of the seventh, with a fly-out and bunt-out followed by Todd's 12th strike-out for the Gators.