Calm. Cool. Collected.
That’s precisely the way St. Hubert conducts itself on the softball diamond. No matter the situation, the Bambies always seem completely in control of their emotions.
“Every inning,” said junior centerfielder Claire Alminde, “is capable of good things.”
It was that type of confidence that led the Bambies to a thrilling 2-1, extra-inning, Catholic League championship victory over Conwell-Egan on a windy afternoon on May 29 at Arcadia University.
Participating in its sixth consecutive league final, St. Hubert has now captured four titles. What made this one particularly impressive was that during the preseason, some scribes apparently had wondered aloud if this season’s edition was worthy of championship prognostication.
“We were supposed to finish in fifth place,” Alminde said, “and it really didn’t faze us at all. We were like, ‘Whatever.’”
The Bambies finished first in the regular season and meandered past two overmatched opponents into the final. Facing a team they had defeated 6-1 on May 10, a championship might have seemed imminent.
Not quite that easy.
“We knew we might be in a tough game,” senior catcher Jess Mishinski said. “We were prepared to play our best. We never, ever look past an opponent, regardless of whether or not we played them before.”
If Mishinski was experiencing a touch of déjà vu, it was the best kind an athlete could experience.
When she was a sophomore, Mishinski delivered a game-winning infield single in the bottom of the seventh inning to give Hubert’s a 1-0 Catholic League championship win over Lansdale Catholic.
Last week against Conwell-Egan, she came to bat with two outs in the bottom of the eighth and the score tied 1-1. Freshman shortstop Jazmin Ortiz had singled to lead off the inning. Junior Taylor Mack, on base as a pinch runner, advanced to second on a ground ball.
After a pop out, junior Gabby DeLeo beat out an infield single and a subsequent throwing error moved the runners to second and third.
Up stepped Mishinski.
On a 1-1 fastball, the Mayfair product lined a single to right center field. Mack gleefully bounced home with the winning run, and requisite bedlam ensued.
“No one even came over to me,” Mack said with a laugh. “We all just ran over to Jess.”
Among the first to greet Mishinski was Alminde.
“I had a flashback to my freshman year,” Alminde said. “I turned to (pitcher) Erica (Ragazzone) and said, ‘Remember our freshman year? This is basically the same situation we were in then.’ I knew when the ball came off the bat, it would be in there.”
After retiring nine straight batters, Ragazzone, the first-team All-Catholic selection and Northeast Times Catholic League Softball Player of the Year, allowed a run in the fourth. From that point on, she surrendered just two singles.
Trusting the aggressive defense that played flawlessly behind her, Ragazzone walked just one and struck out seven. However, her team’s offense struggled to find clutch hits while putting runners on base in seven different innings.
The Bambies managed the game’s first run in the bottom of the first when Alminde led off and slapped a ball to third base for a single. She promptly stole second and advanced to third on Ortiz’s sacrifice bunt. After Ragazzone walked and was replaced by Mack as a courtesy runner (Mack then stole second), junior Jess Grzywna singled to left center. Alminde scored easily, but a perfect throw to the plate nipped Mack for the final out of the frame.
“We were too tight offensively after the first inning,” said Bambies coach Dave Schafer, who previously at Conwell-Egan had secured an amazing 12 titles in 17 years before adding four more in seven seasons at St. Hubert. “We had to loosen up.”
One key player Schafer relies upon to create necessary levity is Alminde.
Referring to her as a “stand-up comic” for her hilarious antics before, during and after pressure-packed contests, Schafer said it’s surprising when Alminde doesn’t reach base because of her penchant for slapping the ball to the left side. Combined with a left-handed swing and lightning-quick speed, Alminde was among the Catholic League leaders in infield singles.
“I just started batting left and slapping this year,” Alminde said. “It was really weird at first getting used to hitting from the opposite side. But I told Coach I was going to get it down and get it right, and he said, ‘I know you are.’”
Alminde got it right enough to be named a first-team All-Catholic centerfielder. Also a point guard for the varsity basketball team and a three-year starter (and this year a first-team All-Catholic selection) on the soccer squad, Alminde has rarely met a challenge she couldn’t handle.
That extends outside the sports arena, as well. Alminde was voted St. Hubert senior class student council president and has numerous plans for her upcoming senior year.
Alminde insists that she is not overwhelmed and that despite a packed calendar, she has plenty of time to enjoy being a “social butterfly.”
“I make the time for everything I’m involved with,” Alminde said. “I get things done. And I spend basically every day with my closest friends because they play the same sports as I do and they are in student council, so I see them all the time.”
Alminde and her teammates recently saw a familiar face when Central High School sophomore Sarah Rosenberg, who transferred from St. Hubert after her freshman year, pitched against the Bambies in the District 12 Class AAAA title last Wednesday.
After allowing an early run, Rosenberg severely sprained her ankle and had to leave the game. The Bambies responded with a 14-run second inning for an easy 15-0 victory behind back-up pitcher Grzywna, who only had to throw three innings to clinch the victory.
“It was great to see her (Rosenberg) and it was disappointing that she got hurt,” Alminde said. “We all still love her.”
Spoken like a true champion. But when it comes to St. Hubert softball players, that’s par for the course. ••EndFragment