In their quest for a Catholic League title, the Archbishop Ryan softball players know Andy Hafele is out there somewhere, looking down on them.
The Ragdolls kept their undefeated league record intact with a 2-1 squeaker over Conwell-Egan in Monday’s semifinal matchup. Following a 12-0 regular season, Ryan advanced to Thursday’s championship game (4 p.m., Arcadia University) against Lansdale Catholic. The Ragdolls are 14-for-14 in league contests this season, one that began with heartbreak when longtime head coach Hafele died of cancer in February.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” said interim head coach Vince Capizzi, Hafele’s top assistant for 12 years, following Monday’s win. “The kids are playing as a team and lifting each other up. It’s a team effort, from the top starter all the way down to the last kid on the bench. We’re trying to win this for Andy.”
One of Capizzi’s top players, pitcher/infielder Kerri Dadalski, concurred.
“It’s extremely important for every single one of us to win this for Mr. Hafele,” said Dadalski, who shut down Little Flower on the mound in the quarterfinals, knocked both runs in against Egan and recorded the final two outs in relief in a pressure-packed situation. “It’s our mission. It’s all for him, because we know we wouldn’t be here without him. He’s watching us in every game and making sure we stay intact.”
Before each game, the Ragdolls gather in a circle and pray around Hafele’s Mass card. His widow, Maryellen, attends most games, with her presence serving as a shot of adrenaline for the Ragdolls.
“She told us, ‘Girls, no matter if you win or lose, I will always love you,’ ” Dadalski said. “We know that he would be proud of us.”
Of course, the Ragdolls also know they are running into a talented Lansdale Catholic team that will do everything in its power to wrestle that championship away, regardless of the sentimental circumstances.
“When it comes down to it, the last game will be a dogfight,” Dadalski said. “Both teams are going to want it. The toughest dog will be the one who pulls it out.”
“We’re looking forward to this,” Capizzi added. “We’re pumped, and the kids are ready. We’ve just got to go do it.”
Any road to a championship will be rife with potholes and speedbumps. The Franklin Towne Charter softball team is living proof.
Towne, a year removed from winning the program’s first Public League title, hit a few snags during the 2014 campaign. For starters, the mother of second baseman Deanna Robinson, one of the team’s most important players, died of cancer in the season’s early stages.
The team stumbled into the postseason, dropping three of its final five games where the bats went mostly silent. But the postseason represents a fresh start, a completely clean slate. So far, Towne has seized that second opportunity.
The Coyotes opened the playoffs by throttling Kensington and Masterman before coming face-to-face with Swenson in Monday’s semifinal contest at Philadelphia University. Robinson went 3-for-4 with three RBI, and pitcher Laura Smith shook off a shaky third inning in leading Towne to a tight 7-6 win. In a game Towne once led 4-0, Smith, who won last year’s championship game, made sure she finished what she started.
“I know Laura likes to close it out,” head coach Jen Daley said. “If she starts something, she’s going to finish it. After the third inning, she was able to calm down and keep it together for our offense.”
The Coyotes will get their chance to repeat in Thursday’s championship game (3 p.m., Philadelphia University) against familiar foe Central.
The Lancers knocked off Towne, 10-8, on April 28; it was a game the Coyotes fell behind 10-1 before rallying for seven runs in the seventh. Daley and company are hoping to get an early jump on Central this time out, saying it’s imperative “to make sure we’re ready to come out swinging. We’re hoping to make it happen early.”
Either way, “I’m so proud of them,” Daley added. “I know they can win. They just need to go and leave it all on the field. The seniors really want it. They don’t want to give the trophy back. It makes me very proud.” ••