Good teams obviously have talent, but the ones that win on a consistent basis possess something more — smarts.
For evidence, look no further than last Thursday afternoon’s PIAA District 1 Class AAA championship at Harriton High School in Lower Merion Township.
Behind gutty pitching and clutch hitting, Nazareth Academy edged Chichester, 2-1, for its first district crown since 2010. While “nail-biting” and “nerve-wracking” are usually associated with a game so close, there didn’t appear to be any trepidation whatsoever emanating from Nazareth’s dugout.
“We’ve been through a lot of different kind of games,” said Nazareth coach Bob Keating. “When you get to this point, a lot of games are close, but our players are confident no matter what the situation.”
Senior Emily Shellenberger, who along with Molly Scullion, Allison Ivcic, and Kate O’Sullivan were varsity freshmen when the Pandas defeated West Chester East for the district title, pitched the first five innings and allowed only one hit while striking out four.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Shellenberger had struck out nine in five shutout innings in a 7-0 semifinal triumph against Villa Maria Academy. Knowing she might be a tad spent in the final, Shellenberger communicated with her coaching staff throughout the game.
“I wanted to stay out there as long as I could,” Shellenberger said. “I didn’t need to strike out every batter. We have a great defense.”
Leading 1-0, thanks to a run-scoring single by freshman Tricia Kalesse in the third inning, Nazareth junior Taylor Lichtenhahn encountered trouble in both of her two innings. In the sixth, the visiting Eagles (13-7) parlayed a walk, stolen base, passed ball and sacrifice fly to tie the game. Despite a two-out double, Chichester was unable to take the lead.
Undaunted, the Pandas (19-2) mounted what proved to be a game-winning rally in their sixth. Kalesse ripped a leadoff single to right field and astutely never broke stride when Chichester’s outfielder misplayed the bounce. A hustling Kalesse ended up at third base.
“I just kept going,” Kalesse said. “I was surprised I ended up at third. We were in great shape to take the lead with the hitters we had coming up. I knew I’d score at some point.”
Up stepped junior Brittany Colombo. Sensing a big moment from the Marist College signee, the Pandas became audibly boisterous, and it appeared to rattle Chichester pitcher Meghan Wimmer.
Calm, cool and collected, Colombo delivered a double to left field to give her team a 2-1 advantage.
“I played on a travel team with her and I know she likes to throw inside,” Colombo said of Wimmer’s arsenal. “I was waiting for an inside pitch. I knew it was coming.”
In the top of the seventh, Chichester refused to go home quietly. A six-pitch walk, sacrifice bunt and wild pitch put Ashley Feeley on third base with one out. But a pair of groundouts clinched Nazareth’s third district title in five years.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” said an elated Colombo. “I just wanted to get (Kalesse) home. Put it in play somewhere. It was awesome.”
Victors of seven consecutive Catholic Academies League championships, winning has remained an annual staple of Nazareth’s softball program.
“There’s so much tradition here and everyone has a lot of pride in that,” Colombo said. “We don’t take anything for granted. We work hard in practice and in every game we respect all of our opponents.” ••