The mood at Arcadia University on May 24 was tense, to say the least.
Nursing a 3-2 lead with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the seventh inning, Bonner-Prendergast junior pitcher Meg Sullivan looked to her right, where St. Hubert had a runner on third. Sullivan needed to be extremely careful with her next toss. A pitch in the dirt could possibly allow the tying run to cross home plate.
“I just wanted to make a good pitch,” said Sullivan. “Just one more good pitch.”
Sullivan reared back and flung. Strike three. For the first time in four years, Bonner-Prendergast was the Catholic League softball champion.
“It was such a relief,” said Sullivan, whose gutsy performance included six strikeouts, not to mention ripping a two-run single in the first inning. Sullivan eventually came around to score what proved to be the winning run following an infield error. “When she swung, I was just really happy.”
Senior catcher Melissa Callahan was also relieved. And impressed.
“She was so good,” said Callahan. “She pitched the best I’ve ever seen her pitch.”
Callahan might have been the most nervous person in the complex prior to the last pitch. She admitted that the entire last inning, particularly when the tying run reached third, was nerve wracking. Hubert had trailed after six innings, 3-1, but scored one run to create a palpable nervousness among the patrons. Callahan realized that a passed ball or wild pitch would have probably resulted in a tie game.
“Blocking isn’t my best,” said the diminutive catcher. “I knew I had to keep it in front … be a goalie. Thank God I didn’t get one in the dirt.”
Then again, Callahan had known the outcome since the first inning.
“When we scored three runs, I knew we were going to win,” she said. “I knew.”
It took an amazing play by B-P senior shortstop Caroline Manfrey to make the victory possible.
In the bottom of the fourth, Hubert trailed, 3-1, and had runners on first and second with two outs. Hubert junior Avery Hibbs slapped a ball up the middle that appeared ticketed for the outfield and a sure run.
Out of nowhere, Manfrey executed a full-extension dive to smother the ball, and then somehow touched the second base bag for a force-out. Since the Pandas won by one, the sensational effort will secure itself in the memory bank as a potential championship saver.
“I was just trusting my instincts,” said Manfrey. “I just kind of like threw myself out there.”
Her extremely appreciative pitcher refused to downplay Manfrey’s contribution.
“It was the greatest play I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Sullivan. “That was a game changer right there. If she didn’t make that play, I don’t even know what would have happened. That was awesome.”
As Manfrey dove for the ball, senior second baseman Kerri Quinn raced toward second base.
“She was on the move,” said Quinn. “She stretched for it. I was covering the bag. I wasn’t sure if she was gonna toss it or not. She just dove for it. She made an awesome play.”
Pandas coach Tom McNulty, who inherited the post this year after having been an assistant coach, proudly watched his players celebrate by posing for pictures with family, friends and teammates.
McNulty was asked to assess Manfrey’s defensive contribution.
“That,” he said, “picks the whole team up. It really helped settle them down.”
One of the last players to leave the field was Sullivan.
“I’m just like extremely proud of my team,” she said. “I’m ecstatic. I don’t know how to explain myself. It just feels amazing to do this with my best friends … It’s the greatest feeling I’ve ever had in softball. I never experienced so much excitement.
“Coming into the season, I really had a lot of confidence. I just knew coming in we had a shot if we worked hard in the offseason and came out strong in the regular season.”
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @johnknebels.