Ragdoll redemption

A big hit: Arch­bish­op Ry­an ju­ni­or pitch­er Nikki Micha­lowski homered and pitched a com­plete game in her team’s 7-5, ex­tra-in­ning win over Little Flower. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA /TIMES PHO­TOS

If last Fri­day af­ter­noon’s reg­u­lar-sea­son soft­ball fi­nale between Arch­bish­op Ry­an and Little Flower offered any in­dic­a­tion, the Cath­ol­ic League play­offs should be quite a doozy.

With Kerri Dadal­ski and Nikki Micha­lowski lead­ing the way, the Rag­dolls can’t wait to get star­ted.

Dadal­ski tripled and homered twice, in­clud­ing a two-run shot in ex­tra in­nings, and Micha­lowski tossed a com­plete game on the mound while adding a two-run homer of her own as Ry­an cap­tured a thrill­ing, 7-5 eight-in­ning win. The pair helped spoil Little Flower’s Seni­or Day, some­how es­cap­ing with a win des­pite three blown leads and ace pitch­er Lind­sey Gibbs’ 13 strikeouts.

It was a vic­tory that the Rag­dolls des­per­ately wanted head­ing in­to the ul­tra-com­pet­it­ive Cath­ol­ic League post­season, where Ry­an (9-3 in league play) will serve as the No. 5 seed (of 10 total qual­i­fi­ers). Little Flower (6-6), which dipped to the eighth seed fol­low­ing the loss, pushed Ry­an to the lim­it by throw­ing the kit­chen sink at its op­pon­ent, of­fer­ing a fur­ther glimpse of why every team in the league be­lieves it has a shot to take home the ul­ti­mate prize. (In 2012, St. Hubert took home the title as the league’s top seed; the Bam­bies are No. 2 in 2013, be­hind Con­well-Egan, whom Ry­an de­feated 3-2 on April 23.)

“It was def­in­itely in­tense the whole game,” said Dadal­ski, a sopho­more cen­ter field­er who reached base all four times she bat­ted and scored three of the Raid­ers’ sev­en runs. “It was one of my best games, both hit­ting and in the field. My team played really well, and it’s really ex­cit­ing to come away with a win in a great game like that.”

Dadal­ski’s eighth-in­ning hero­ics were needed after her team let leads of 1-0, 3-2 and 5-4 slip away. A two-out wild pitch in the bot­tom of the sev­enth sent the game to ex­tras, but Ry­an quickly de­flated Little Flower’s bal­loon when fresh­man shortstop Sarah Os­taszewski reached on a leadoff bul­let single to cen­ter the next in­ning. Dadal­ski then stepped in and cranked a homer to deep left, and Micha­lowski buckled down to shut the door in the eighth to gut out a hard-earned win.

For Dadal­ski, the win car­ried a little ex­tra in the way of brag­ging rights. Her cous­in, fresh­man Tori Sher­wood, plays cen­ter field for Little Flower; in fact, Dadal­ski’s second-in­ning home run sailed over Sher­wood’s head in the out­field. In the Cath­ol­ic League, it’s not un­com­mon for girls on one team to be re­lated to, or close friends with, com­pet­it­ors on oth­er teams. Al­most every­body knows every­body from play­ing with and against one an­oth­er on grade school and sum­mer tour­na­ment teams, which adds yet an­oth­er wrinkle to such a par­ity-filled, cut­throat league.

“Every game is so com­pet­it­ive and ex­cit­ing, es­pe­cially now with the cham­pi­on­ship com­ing up,” Dadal­ski said. “It’s a lot of fun to see how of­ten teams jump around in the stand­ings. You know all of these girls, and you have re­spect for them and their teams. For us, it teaches us that we can’t care about who we play, just that we have to bring our ‘A’ game every time. That’s a big part of win­ning.”

For Micha­lowski, the win also car­ried ex­tra grat­i­fic­a­tion. Ad­mit­tedly, she didn’t have her best stuff, is­su­ing nine walks on the mound, which prob­ably let Little Flower hang around longer than ne­ces­sary. However, Micha­lowski hung in there un­til the end, help­ing her­self out with the two-run homer in the third and be­liev­ing that her team­mates would have her back on the rest.

“It’s awe­some to know I can de­pend on them to pick me up,” she said. “Es­pe­cially Kerri. She really un­der­stands how to pick me up, be­cause I know she wants to win as badly as I do. From the be­gin­ning, this team just has had real good chem­istry. Every­body has an off day here and there, but it’s about band­ing to­geth­er to rely on each oth­er when that hap­pens. I know that if someone hits a bomb off me, we’re go­ing to get it back.”

For Micha­lowski, that in­cludes stay­ing sharp at the plate. Un­like the dy­nam­ic Gibbs, who doesn’t bat for the Sen­tinels, Micha­lowski hits third for Ry­an, mean­ing her bat is just as im­port­ant to the team’s suc­cess as her right arm. She’s learned how to bal­ance the two from her older sis­ters, both of whom played soft­ball for Ry­an: eld­est sis­ter Sara star­ted as a pitch­er in high school but went on to be­come a Di­vi­sion-I third base­man at Hof­stra, where she was the 2011 Co­lo­ni­al Ath­let­ic As­so­ci­ation Play­er of the Year; there’s also Jenna, who played first base and gradu­ated from Ry­an in 2011.

“Whenev­er I need help, on or off the field, they’re both al­ways there for me,” Nikki said of her sis­ters. “They’ve been through it all, and they al­ways work with me. If I’m strug­gling with my hit­ting or pitch­ing, we go to the field and we work it out.”

Dadal­ski, a sopho­more, and ju­ni­ors Micha­lowski, Jenna Magee (second base) and Cath­er­ine Ham­mer (catch­er) lead the way for a team that has just two seni­ors, neither of whom star­ted on Fri­day. Both Dadal­ski and Micha­lowski said class stand­ing is ir­rel­ev­ant if a team makes up for it in over­all chem­istry.

“We’re young, but we blend to­geth­er real well,” Dadal­ski said. “It’s ex­cit­ing know­ing mostly all of us will be back next year. We want to build something.”

Micha­lowski echoed that state­ment, which was no more evid­ent than after she al­lowed the ty­ing run to score on the wild pitch in the sev­enth. In­stead of buck­ling and al­low­ing the win­ning run to score from third, she glanced to­ward her bench still stand­ing and cheer­ing her on, smiled and struck the fi­nal bat­ter out. Dadal­ski then ap­plied the fin­ishes touches on the vic­tory.

“The pres­sure af­fects me emo­tion­ally some­times, but I do en­joy it,” Micha­lowski said. “Know­ing your team­mates un­der­stand that pres­sure and still cheer you on when you make a mis­take, that’s just an awe­some feel­ing.”

Micha­lowski, Dadal­ski and the rest of the Rag­dolls hope they have a few more awe­some per­form­ances left in them. Their first op­por­tun­ity will come Thursday at fourth-seeded Lans­dale Cath­ol­ic, while Little Flower played an open­ing-round con­test against Arch­bish­op Wood on Monday. (Be­hind 12 more strikeouts from Gibbs, Little Flower pre­vailed over Wood, 3-0, ad­van­cing to take on top-seeded Con­well-Egan on Thursday.)

Whatever hap­pens, one thing is clear: the Rag­dolls be­lieve in each oth­er. While nine oth­er cap­able teams will be chas­ing the same goal, Ry­an would be crazy not to have faith in its abil­ity to win a title, not after Fri­day’s roller coast­er ride.

“We all get along and have fun,” Dadal­ski said. “We’re a young team, but we don’t have that ‘girl drama’ that some teams might. We go out there with the same goals, and we all love the game so much. We have con­fid­ence, and we think we have a very good chance of win­ning a cham­pi­on­ship. As long as we con­tin­ue on the same page and be­lieve in each oth­er, we know we can do it.” ••

Sports Ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­rone@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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