When Lansdale Catholic joined the Catholic League three years ago, one of the concerns was how long it would take for some of their athletic teams to compete with the more established programs.
As for softball? Not a problem.
Playing against three-time defending champion St. Hubert’s May 25 at Arcadia University, the Crusaders erased a 1-0 deficit with three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and then held off the scrappy Bambies, 3-1.
For Lansdale Catholic, the win avenged last year’s title game loss to Hubert’s while cementing the Crusaders in Catholic League softball lore as the earliest “expansion” team to seize the title.
“We weren’t sure what was going to happen, but we did well our first year, made it to the championship in our second, and then won it in our third,” summarized proud senior shortstop Kelly Schoener. “I definitely think we passed the test.”
Joining teammates Meg Martin, Melissa Chapman, Brittany Bray and Kailyn Wunder, Schoener was one of five Crusader seniors who had started since their sophomore year. Junior pitcher Mary Cate Scott is also a three-year starter.
Combining forces with some promising freshmen, coach Paul Suder’s Crusaders emerged as one of the league’s elite in April. One of the teams they defeated during the regular season was Hubert’s, but that enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that last year they also defeated Hubert’s in the regular season but got shut out in the championship.
“We wanted to play Hubert’s in the final,” said Martin, a centerfielder. “Obviously beating anyone for a championship would have been great, but playing them and knowing that they had won three in a row and had beaten us last year … it kind of made the whole thing perfect.”
“Perfect” would be a far cry from the strike zone both teams were forced to interpret throughout the two-hour affair. Both coaches and their players expressed understandable exasperation at the stoic home plate umpire.
What remained a pitcher’s duel unraveled in the sixth inning when Hubert’s, whose 14-6 record included a 10-1 streak heading into the final, managed to take a 1-0 lead in the top half. That left the Crusaders in near-desperation mode heading into their half of the frame.
Incredibly, Lansdale Catholic (14-5) coaxed a seemingly endless horde of walks – some obvious, others, because of the inconsistency of the strike zone, of the head-scratching variety.
Before Hubert’s nightmare inning was over, three Lansdale Catholic batters had walked with the bases loaded, and all that separated the Crusaders from their first-ever Catholic League title were three outs, which Scott coaxed after an inning-opening error.
“I don’t blame them for being frustrated,” said Schoener. “No one could tell what was a strike or a ball because it changed so much. But it was that way for both teams.”
Regardless of the method of victory, the Crusaders did what they have done best this year – figure out ways to finish on top. If it took aggressive swinging – like their 11-10 slugfest win over Archbishop Carroll in the league semifinals (Chapman’ s two-run double in the home seventh clinched the triumph) – or managing great patience in a “small ball” contest against Hubert’s, Lansdale Catholic proved itself time and again.
“When we look back at this year, it’s going to always be unbelievable,” Martin said. “We are so proud to make history for our school.”
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.