Claiming the crown

Frank­lin Towne Charter over­came a four-run de­fi­cit to claim its first Pub­lic League soft­ball cham­pi­on­ship.

As a steady rain began to fall in the sev­enth in­ning of Thursday’s Pub­lic League soft­ball cham­pi­on­ship game, spec­tat­ors scattered to­ward their cars in an at­tempt to dodge the down­pour.

Mean­while, sis­ters Laura and Larissa Smith re­mained firmly en­trenched in their spots on the field at La Salle Uni­versity. Larissa, the ex­per­i­enced seni­or, stood in left field, while Laura, the young but tal­en­ted sopho­more, at­temp­ted to close out a 10-7 win for Frank­lin Towne Charter over Girls High.

After a one-out walk, the next bat­ter for Girls High scorched a Laura Smith pitch to­ward the gap in left-cen­ter; Larissa, a part of the Towne soft­ball pro­gram for four long years, some­how ran down the liner with the grace of a gazelle, mak­ing an ex­tremely dif­fi­cult play look routine for at least the third time that day. With the ball in her older sis­ter’s glove and a weight off her shoulders, Laura Smith buckled down, re­cor­ded the fi­nal out on a ground­er back to the mound and helped de­liv­er Towne’s first-ever league soft­ball title.

“She made some amaz­ing plays, and they saved me,” Laura Smith said later of her sis­ter’s de­fens­ive hero­ics. “We’re very close, and she’s al­ways been there for me on and off the field. That was true today in the out­field. She made some catches that oth­er girls just wouldn’t.”

For her part, an un­der­stated Larissa just wanted to fi­nally get it all over with.

“That sev­enth in­ning, it just felt like forever stand­ing out there,” she said. “My heart was in my belly the en­tire time. When we got that fi­nal out, my first thought was, ‘Is this real?’ It’s been forever, and I’ve waited so long for this.”

It’s been quite the ride for Larissa Smith, the longest-ten­ured play­er on a roster that fea­tures just three seni­ors (also right field­er Lind­say Kane and des­ig­nated play­er Kim Nun­ez), as well as her head coach, Jen Da­ley, an alum­nus of the pro­gram.

Da­ley played second base for Towne be­fore she gradu­ated in 2004 with some un­fin­ished busi­ness. She re­turned in 2008 to teach math at her alma ma­ter; then, in 2010, Da­ley took the reins of her be­loved soft­ball pro­gram. In that first sea­son, Larissa Smith was the only fresh­man to make the team dur­ing spring try­outs.

It’s surely been a long, wind­ing road in get­ting to this point. Towne soft­ball has had suc­cess in the past, win­ning a Class AAA title and ad­van­cing as far as the Pub­lic League post­season semi­finals in re­cent sea­sons. But the team had nev­er been quite this close, es­pe­cially after tak­ing a 2-0 first-in­ning lead on Thursday.

That lead evap­or­ated quickly as Girls High tied it up and then hung a four-spot of un­earned runs on Laura Smith in the third. Down 6-2, Towne’s play­ers nev­er pan­icked; and why should they after eras­ing a five-run lead to earn a 13-12 win over the same op­pon­ent on May 6.

“When they came back to the dugout after that in­ning, they were really quiet,” Da­ley said of her team. “I re­minded them, ‘We’ve been here be­fore, now let’s get our bats go­ing.’ The whole game, even when we got down 6-2, I kept think­ing that we could do it.”

Towne got one back in the third, and two more in the fourth, in­clud­ing Nun­ez tag­ging and scor­ing from third on a routine pop-up to second base. Da­ley’s team stayed ag­gress­ive and cap­it­al­ized on seem­ingly every Girls High mis­take from the third in­ning on. Down 7-5 in the fifth with run­ners on second and third, Towne tied the game when both base run­ners some­how scored on a dropped third strike and botched throw to first base. 

After Smith re­tired Girls High in or­der in the sixth, Towne broke a 7-7 tie when shortstop Val Scalici scored on second base­man Deanna Robin­son’s run-scor­ing double to right-cen­ter. First base­man Shelby Chep­ress ad­ded an RBI single to right two bat­ters later.

From there, it was up to the Smith sis­ters to close things down, and they were more than happy to an­swer the call.

“Our team is al­ways ag­gress­ive on the bases. We al­ways want to try for more and get in the oth­er team’s head,” Larissa said. “That’s one of our strong suits. Once we get on, we know what we need to do to score.”

Laura Smith cer­tainly ap­pre­ci­ated the ex­tra push from her of­fense, as well as the de­fense be­hind her ral­ly­ing after a rough third in­ning. Larissa Smith saved at least two or three runs on her own, run­ning down sev­er­al dif­fi­cult fly balls and even gunned down a run­ner at third who tried to stretch a double in­to a triple. As a res­ult, Laura settled down, al­low­ing just a run and four hits the rest of the way.

“That ab­so­lutely helped me out, see­ing them fight back for me,” Laura said. “It in­spired me. When my sis­ter made those plays, I re­laxed and calmed down. We came to­geth­er when we needed to and we fixed ourselves.”

Per­haps nobody was more thrilled than Da­ley, a pro­gram lifer who raced out of the dugout in­to the cel­eb­rat­ory pile-up with the rest of her team when Laura Smith re­cor­ded the fi­nal out. They also made sure to dump the re­main­ing con­tents of the wa­ter cool­er on Da­ley after the game.

“It’s ab­so­lutely amaz­ing,” the coach said a few hours later on the phone. “Com­ing full circle, you al­ways think of that mo­ment when you’ll get the trophy and wa­ter dumped all over you. We’re just this little charter school, but we set out to show we be­longed with every­one else. To see their faces after we won … it’s something I’ll nev­er for­get.”

As a res­ult of win­ning its first Pub­lic League soft­ball title, Towne ad­vanced to Wed­nes­day’s city title game against Bon­ner-Pren­die, which de­feated St. Hubert for the Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship. Da­ley will cher­ish at least one more game with this group be­fore wel­com­ing al­most her en­tire roster back in 2014.

“We lose some good play­ers, namely Larissa, who’s been with me all four years,” she said. “But thank good­ness I still have Laura for two more years, which makes the trans­ition easi­er. We have a really great group of girls, and I’m so ex­cited for the fu­ture of the pro­gram. They’ve already told me that they don’t want to give the trophy back.”

In the end, noth­ing could stop Towne, which outscored its op­pon­ents 52-14 in its three play­off con­tests. Not a four-run de­fi­cit, and cer­tainly not an on­com­ing rain­storm. 

“From the be­gin­ning, we were nev­er the best team, but we im­proved so much,” Larissa Smith said. “I’ve been on this team for four years, so this is a big thing for me. Frank­lin Towne is my second home … my second fam­ily. I’m still speech­less. I don’t know how to act.”

“We haven’t won much, at least not something like this, in quite a while,” Laura Smith ad­ded. “We’ve all grown closer be­cause of what we’ve shared to­geth­er. Towne ath­let­ics have come so far. We knew it would be in­tense out there, and we proved what we wanted to, that Frank­lin Towne Charter is a win­ner.” ••

Sports Ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­

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