Nazareth claims PIAA District 1 Class AAA crown

Pan­das young and old ban­ded to­geth­er to de­liv­er Naz­areth Academy its first dis­trict soft­ball title since 2010.

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.”

Smart think­ing.

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.” ••

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