Heaven sent

The Ragdolls won the PCL championship for former coach Andy Hafele, who succumbed to cancer after guiding Ryan’s softball program for 19 years.

  • Maryellen Hafele, Andy’s widow, was a constant presence throughout Ryan softball games this season during the Ragdolls’ unbelievable championship run in honor of their fallen coach. MICHELLE ALTON / FOR THE TIMES

  • Following the win, Dadalski leapt into the arms of her father. MICHELLE ALTON / FOR THE TIMES

  • Well armed: Archbishop Ryan junior pitcher Kerri Dadalski struck out seven batters during the Ragdolls’ title win at Arcadia University. MICHELLE ALTON / FOR THE TIMES

  • After going 12-0 in the Catholic League regular season, punctuated by three more postseason victories, Archbishop Ryan celebrates its well-deserved softball title. MICHELLE ALTON / FOR THE TIMES

  • A win for Andy: Archbishop Ryan ousted Lansdale Catholic for the Catholic League softball championship. They dedicated the season to former head coach Andy Hafele, who died in February before the season began. The school’s last softball title had come in 1995, during the beginning of Hafele’s tenure. MICHELLE ALTON / FOR THE TIMES

Arch­bish­op Ry­an had just cap­tured the Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship with a con­vin­cing 5-0 vic­tory over Lans­dale Cath­ol­ic Thursday af­ter­noon at Ar­ca­dia Uni­versity.

As soon as the game’s fi­nal out — a tower­ing fly ball to left field — was swal­lowed up by sopho­more Meghan O’Neil, the Rag­dolls went bal­list­ic, sur­round­ing the pitch­er’s mound with deaf­en­ing shriek­ing and deep em­braces.

Over­head, the clouds that had threatened to burst for the past hour sud­denly un­leashed a tor­rent of pound­ing rain. Swept in eu­phor­ia and cel­eb­rat­ory fam­ily/friend ming­ling, no one from Arch­bish­op Ry­an minded be­ing soaked.

That’s when a thought sud­denly oc­curred to ju­ni­or win­ning pitch­er Kerri Dadal­ski.

“I really think that it wasn’t rain­ing,” she said. “I really think they were our coach’s tears of hap­pi­ness pour­ing down from heav­en.”

Dadal­ski was re­fer­ring to former coach Andy Hafele, who suc­cumbed to can­cer this past Feb­ru­ary after guid­ing Ry­an’s pro­gram as head coach since 1994. When Hafele passed, the in­ter­im reins — no pun in­ten­ded — were handed to 12-year as­sist­ant Vince Capizzi, a fa­mil­i­ar face who could of­fer the girls guid­ance and safe­keep­ing through an im­possibly try­ing time.

From the first team meet­ing in late Feb­ru­ary, the Rag­dolls ded­ic­ated the sea­son to their be­loved coach. They wore “AH” patches on their uni­forms; donned T-shirts with the words “Arch­bish­op Ry­an Soft­ball” on the front and “Forever in Our Hearts” on the back.

Then they went out and ob­lit­er­ated the com­pet­i­tion, trail­ing a game only one time be­fore fin­ish­ing an un­defeated 15-0 in a Cath­ol­ic League that was loaded with co­pi­ous tal­ent and abil­ity.

Beat­ing Lans­dale Cath­ol­ic would be a chore, but as LC head coach Paul Suder later ad­mit­ted, it was as though Ry­an simply re­fused to be denied.

“I would agree that this was def­in­itely just one of those days,” Suder said. “We’re a good team, but Ry­an played bet­ter. They de­served to win this.”

And after all they’ve been through to­geth­er, how could they not?

String­ing to­geth­er sev­en singles, a walk, a sac­ri­fice fly and a throw­ing er­ror, the Rag­dolls scored two runs in the second and three more in the third. O’Neil (two singles, run scored, RBI) and fresh­man first base­man Re­illy Kerr (two singles, a walk, three runs bat­ted in) provided most of the of­fense.

A two-out, full-count, two-run single by Kerr forged a 5-0 lead, and at that point, it would have taken a minor mir­acle for Lans­dale Cath­ol­ic to re­cov­er.

“I was just try­ing to put the ball in play,” Kerr said. “That def­in­itely eased the pres­sure, es­pe­cially the way Kerri was pitch­ing.”


Mov­ing her pitches with pre­ci­sion and con­fid­ence, Dadal­ski, who also provided two singles with her bat, sur­rendered only a poorly played double (could have been con­sidered an er­ror, which would have giv­en her a third no-hit­ter this sea­son) and two walks. She mowed down the frus­trated Cru­saders 1-2-3 in five dif­fer­ent in­nings, strik­ing out one bat­ter in each in­ning to fin­ish with sev­en.

Her only struggle oc­curred in the sixth. LC led off with a walk, and the next bat­ter had a 2-0 count. In­ex­plic­ably, the run­ner tried to steal (it was later re­vealed that she had missed a sign) and was caught eas­ily by Ry­an’s strong-armed sopho­more catch­er Sarah Os­taszewski, who earli­er had scored two runs and, in the quarterfi­nal win over Little Flower, smashed a three-run homer to clinch the tri­umph.

“That’s pretty much when I knew that we were def­in­itely go­ing to win,” said Dadal­ski. “I knew that even when I wasn’t on top of my game, my team­mates were go­ing to find a way to make it hap­pen.”

Then came the sev­enth in­ning. As Dadal­ski was de­liv­er­ing what amoun­ted to the game’s fi­nal pitch, there was a gentle stroke of light­ning seen over­head. The um­pires would have had to delay the con­test via safety rules, but it didn’t mat­ter when LC’s Alyssa Mess­ina lif­ted a long drive to left field that pre­cip­it­ated Arch­bish­op Ry­an’s first Cath­ol­ic League title since 1995.

Reached a few hours later after she had had a chance to di­gest her and her squad’s sur­real ac­com­plish­ment, Dadal­ski di­vulged a tender mo­ment that had oc­curred in the clandes­tine quar­ters of the team bus.

Izzy Hoch, a sopho­more who had played spar­ingly on varsity and was one of sev­er­al play­ers pro­moted to dress for the cham­pi­on­ship, told Dadal­ski and her team­mates that with two outs in the sev­enth, the dugout was be­com­ing in­creas­ingly con­cerned that the game would be delayed by rain.

Nearby was Hafele’s wife Maryel­len, who told the girls not to worry.

“She said that Andy wasn’t go­ing to let it rain, and sure enough, it didn’t rain un­til it was over,” Dadal­ski said. “That’s when it hit me. And that’s when I star­ted cry­ing.”

Sev­en dif­fer­ent Rag­dolls con­trib­uted to the 10-hit at­tack. Al­though she did line out on a bul­let to right, seni­or third base­man Cat Ham­mer was not among them.

She couldn’t have cared less.

“There was one goal in mind, and that was win­ning,” said Ham­mer, whose Rag­dolls will meet Pub­lic League champ Cent­ral on Wed­nes­day in the Class AAAA Dis­trict 12 cham­pi­on­ship at Ar­ca­dia. “This sea­son would have been ruined if we didn’t get it done. Didn’t mat­ter who did what, as long as we got the job done.

“Up and down our lineup, we pick each oth­er up. We did it again in the most im­port­ant game of the sea­son. I was so proud of every­one. They star­ted early and kept on go­ing. We nev­er let up.”

Cham­pi­on­ship soft­ball at its finest. ••

You can reach at jknebels@gmail.com.

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