By John Knebels
DREXEL HILL – If weather was allowed to be a member of the Catholic League, it would be easy to determine the team to beat:
“We’re five and seven this year,” mused Archbishop Prendergast softball coach Charlie Wieners. “We have five wins and seven cancellations.”
Wieners is obviously not alone when it comes to being frustrated about preparing for a contest only to have it washed away by Mother Nature. With about a month remaining in the regular season, Prendergast has company in the make-up department. April showers have necessitated the probability of playing three or four games in a single week from now until mid-May.
The major problem with that isn’t so much too many games as much as it is too few practices.
“You don’t have adequate time to work on your defense drills and you don’t get an opportunity to hit off live pitching,” said Wieners, who also serves as assistant principal for academic affairs at Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast High School. “You want as many repetitions as you can get.”
Although no team has catapulted to the front of the line in either the Northern or Southern spanision, Prendergast’s 5-0 start (through April 20) has included two South spanision victories and two wins over teams from the North, including a 3-2 decision against an Archbishop Ryan team that should contend for a league title.
As is typical in just about every softball victory, the key to Prendergast’s early success has been strong pitching, especially by junior left-hander Devon Beese. A case in point was against Ryan because after jumping to a 3-0 lead, the Pandas were able to rely on both Beese and their steady defense to cement the triumph.
“We have a lot of faith in our pitching,” said senior second baseman and team captain Colleen Orsborn. “We know we’re not going to stand there and watch a lot of walks, so it keeps us ready on defense. That makes a big difference.”
The Pandas have the rare advantage of pitching depth, as senior Ashley Campbell and junior Briana DiLeonardo are also available should the need arise. An 18-deep roster that includes many seniors, Prendergast relies on shortstop Emily Moran’s big bat in the clean-up hole and on the defense of centerfielder Jen Nance, first baseman Brittany Merkle and catcher Kate Dumont.
That core group has helped offset the loss of three graduated first-team All-Catholics.
“We are not a team that beats ourselves with poor defense and we have good pitching,” said Wieners. “We lost a lot of offense and we have a ways to go to get our bats where they need to be.”
History dictates that, the Pandas will find their offense sometime soon, regardless of the rain-soaked fields in Philadelphia and its suburbs.
Last year, Prendergast finished 18-6 and lost to eventual league champion St. Hubert, 2-0, in the league semifinals.
For a program such as Prendergast, advancing deep into the post-season is far from an anomaly. Fueled by many athletes who also play on tournament teams, the Pandas were strong under former coach Dolores Martino and have not missed a beat since Wieners took over two years ago.
This is the second stint as Prendie’s coach for Wieners, a softball-lifer since graduating from La Salle College High School in 1962 and St. Joseph’s University in 1966. Some Hawks’ fans might be interested to know he served as the famed “Hawk” mascot for three seasons.
After coaching at Cardinal Dougherty from 1969 to 1985, Wieners went on to Prendie through 1991 and then took over the St. Joe’s program from 1991 until 2001. Among Wieners’ highlights while coaching at St. Joe’s was that his first roster included two of his former players at Prendie – Eileen Brady and Mary Jo Ely, known these days as Sister Mary Jo Ely, I.H.M.
“That was a big help,” said Wieners. “It didn’t take as long developing a reputation.”
Meanwhile, the Prendie tradition as a program of excellence remains drenched with potential to make significant noise this year.
Assuming it stops raining.