District Softball Wrap: Opening Round

#10 North Penn 14, #23 Academy Park 4 (6 innings)

Miranda Sergas – fresh off a dazzling 5-for-5, four-RBI performance - pulled out a folded slip of paper after Monday’s big win that simply read:
“It’s not an ideal path, but it’s our path.”
                                --Peter Laviolette, Philadelphia Flyers Coach
 
Those are words to live by for the Maidens as they embark on what they hope will be a memorable post-season run.
Like the Flyers, their journey has included some unexpected and not always pleasant twists and turns. Midway through the season, the Maidens stumbled to three losses in four games, allowing 28 runs in those three games combined.
Not exactly the kind of stretch a Maiden squad with five returning all-league players and conference title aspirations had anticipated. They rebounded from that potentially devastating stretch to earn some big wins and proved they could play with the best when they extended conference champion Central Bucks South to the limit before falling 1-0.
In many ways, Monday’s District One AAAA opener against 23rd-seeded Academy Park was a microcosm of their season. The game had a happy ending as the 10th-seeded Maidens pounded out 18 hits and scored 14 runs, but there also was an unsettling stretch in the third inning that saw the Maidens commit a pair of errors, allowing Academy Park to plate three unearned runs and take a short-lived 3-2 lead.
“We can’t do that anymore,” Sergas said matter-of-factly. “If we do, that’s going to be a game changer. We’re going to lose a game because of an inning like that.
“Everyone needs to realize that. I had like 10 passed balls, and I need to work on that. Everyone knows what they need to work on now.”
Sergas didn’t have anything close to 10 passed balls, but the senior catcher’s point was clear. The Maidens can’t afford a lapse that is easily forgotten when your team scores 14 runs but could be the difference between winning and losing when runs are at a premium.
From the outset of Monday’s game, it was clear that the Maidens held a decided advantage over an Academy Park squad that was the 23rd and final team in the district tournament. The fact that the Knights’ starting pitcher was watching from the bench made them an even bigger underdog.
“I knew coming in they were going to have someone just lob the ball over, and my team does not hit well against slow pitching,” coach Rick Torresani said. “That’s what scared me coming in – that we were not going to be able to hit, and if we made a couple of mistakes in the field, which we did do, it would cost us.”
Sergas was asked if the slow pitching resembled batting practice.
“Actually, I think it’s worse than batting practice,” she said. “Our team struggles off of slow pitching.
“Yesterday at practice we were literally hitting off our pitcher’s change-ups because that was the speed of her regular pitch, so we were prepared, and it showed, but it’s still very frustrating.”
If Sergas was frustrated, she certainly didn’t let it show during a glittering five-hit barrage that included a triple and home run.
“She hit the ball a ton,” Torresani said of his number three hitter. “Thank God she showed up.
“That’s what she has been doing all year - when we need the big hit, she’s always come through. There were a couple of losses where she was the next batter up and never got to the plate, but she’s been doing everything for us.”
The Maidens put a run on the scoreboard in the first when Sergas roped an RBI triple to deep right center. In the second, that lead grew to 2-0 after Taylor Marchozzi’s RBI single, but Academy Park answered with a three-run third.
Sergas showed her displeasure with that turn of events by smashing a solo home run over the left field fence to open the bottom of the third, knotting the score 3-3.
“Watching them – we’re definitely at a higher level, and that’s what made me so mad – that we could come in and play on our turf like that in the beginning,” Sergas said. “No more, no more mistakes.”
Steph Kulp, who had three hits and three RBIs, lined a one-out double to left, and she moved up to third on Michelle Holweger’s first of two singles. Kulp raced home on a wild pitch, and the Maidens had a lead they would not lose.
“We’re used to faster pitching, and we hit off Kell (Kellianna Bradstreet) a lot, so once we adjust to it, we’re all okay,” Kulp said. “Our defense wasn’t good at the beginning, but I think it helped that we came back with the bats, especially the inning after we gave up those runs.
“We all picked our heads up and picked it up with the bats.”
Once the Maidens started hitting, they didn’t stop. In the fourth inning, they upped their lead to 7-3, benefitting from consecutive singles by Sergas, Steph Farrar (RBI), Kulp (RBI) and Alyssa Campbell (RBI).
Academy Park’s Amanda Congraldi homered over the left field fence in the fifth to make it a 7-4 game in the top of the sixth, but the Maidens answered with a seven-run outburst in the bottom of the inning.
The mercy rule went into effect when Sergas delivered her fifth hit of the day, lining a single to center that plated a pair of runs.
“Hitting is contagious, and obviously, it showed today,” Sergas said. “We need to take that into the next game.
“We came in here knowing they were the 23rd seed. Anything can happen in any game, and we knew that. We were mentally prepared, but we started off slow. You have to take it one game at a time. In the beginning, they had us.”
The Maidens will travel to Norristown on Wednesday where they will take on the seventh seeded Eagles.
“Norristown is not going to be easy,” Sergas said. “They want it just as much as we do.”
#13 Downingtown East 3, #20 Wissahickon 2
This loss is going to sting for a long, long time.
The Trojans found out late Monday night that their game against the Cougars –halted with none out in the bottom of the sixth with the score deadlocked 3-3 – would not be resumed but, instead, would revert back to the score at the end of five innings, which was 3-2 in favor of Downingtown East.
“I’m disappointed that it would be the policy of the district to decide a game that way,” coach Jerry Hartman said. “It’s frustrating, and if that’s a rule, it needs to be changed.”
If it’s not going to be changed, there certainly has to be more clarity since a greater effort might have been made to ensure that the game went the full seven innings if both teams had been aware of the rule.
“The East coach didn’t want it to end that way, and if I was on the other end, I wouldn’t have wanted it to end that way,” Hartman said. “It’s a rule that needs to be looked at.”
As it is, the Trojans’ heroic comeback was for naught.
They fell behind 2-0 after the Cougars scored a pair of first-inning runs but rallied to knot the score 2-2 in the top of the fifth. The Cougars went on top 3-2 in the bottom of the frame, but in the top of the sixth, pitcher Katie Ziegler led off with a single and moved up to second on a passed ball. She scored on Rachel Philbin’s RBI double down the left field line, knotting the score 3-3.
That’s when the rain began falling.
“It rained for about 20 minutes,” Hartman said. “Neither AD knew the rule, the umpire didn’t know the rule. It was not something anyone knew.
“It’s certainly disappointing that a season would end that way, especially since we tied it up and had a chance to go ahead.”
Gretchen Gualiagnone and Kelly Fineberg led the Trojans with two hits each.
# 16 Owen J. Roberts 6, #17 Central Bucks East 4
The Wildcats plated four first-inning runs and then both teams endured a 45-minute rain delay in the third inning. When play resumed, the Wildcats received back-to-back solo home runs to go on top 6-0 before the Patriots staged a heroic comeback.
“They were just hitting,” coach Erin Scott said of the Wildcats. “They were up 6-0 – talk about being deflated, but we didn’t give up.”
Allie Chase led off the fourth inning with a single, and Brittany Devlin was hit by a pitch. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch. Chase scored East’s first run on an RBI groundout by Ali Vavala to make it a 6-1 game.
In the sixth, Chase once again ignited the Patriots, leading off with her second single of the day. Two outs later, Vavala delivered an RBI double to make it a 6-2 game. Taylor Huckfeldt’s RBI single plated Vavala, and the Patriots’ trimmed their deficit to 6-4 after an RBI single from Robyn Ziegler.
East had runners in scoring position in the first, second and fifth innings but couldn’t push them across.
“In the first inning, we had runners in scoring position, and they intentionally walked Allie Chase,” Scott said. “They definitely did their homework and knew that she was good.”
Chase and Vavala both finished the day 2-for-3. Chase scored a pair of runs while Vavala had two RBIs and a run scored.
“I was definitely happy that they fought back,” Scott said. “I told them at the end of the game – I can’t be unhappy as a coach if you fight back like that. You have to be proud of your team. Those are character building situations.
“I’m not happy with the outcome, and I don’t think we had our best game, but at the same time, to be a team that fights back when you’re down 6-0, it shows a lot of character, it shows they have a lot of heart. They didn’t give up, and they didn’t want their season to end. That’s all I can ask for. You’re going to have games where those things happen, and you have to battle back.”
The Wildcats held a 10-8 advantage in hits.
#21 Haverford 5, #12 Council Rock North 2
It wasn’t the outcome the Indians were hoping for when they took the diamond for their first post-season game in five years on Monday, but it also wasn’t the kind of pitching they were expecting to see in the high stakes district tournament.
“Their pitcher threw at about 30 miles per hour,” coach Hollie Woodard said. “She had a drop curve, and it was a 25-30 MPH drop curve, and we could not hit it.
“We’ve hit the ball hard all season, and we had two hits the whole game. We couldn’t even get bunts in play because literally the pitch was coming so slow you had to push the bunt to keep it in play.”
It didn’t help that the Indians, according to Woodard, committed five errors, resulting in three unearned runs.
The Indians actually got on the scoreboard first, benefitting from a walk and an RBI single by Morgan Lewis in the bottom of the first. The Fords answered with three runs in the second.
It was a 3-2 game after the Indians plated an unearned run in the third and would remain that way until the Fords added a pair of runs in the seventh.
“They had a really good short game,” Woodard said. “They did a great job of executing their short game, and we did not at all. We just could not get any bunts down.
“As soon as I saw their pitcher, I was like, ‘Oh man’ because she was not very strong at all. We had bad pitch selection at the beginning and had a lot of pop-ups. They were smart because they changed pitchers in the fifth inning, and she was equally slow.”
Woodard admits she was hoping for more in her team’s district debut.
 “I’m kicking myself saying, ‘What did I do wrong?’” the Indians’ coach said. “We did nothing wrong. A year ago we were at home with a losing record.
“I’m just disappointed because it was a home game, we were the higher seed and we were supposed to represent the National (Conference), and we just didn’t.”
The Indians closed out their season with a 13-6 mark.
“After the game, we didn’t talk X’s and O’s with them,” Woodard said. “I just went around to each player and hugged them and thanked them for getting us a playoff game because that was a big goal.
“(Our post-game talk) was really geared toward what our seniors did and trying to tell them that they started something here. Next year we’ll win this game. “