UPPER DARBY >> Bonner & Prendergast’s Meghan Sullivan was mired in a hitting slump and wondered if she would ever break out of it, a common thought if you’re a softball player who is struggling with the bat.
— Matt Smith (@DTMattSmith) April 28, 2017
“I wasn’t really confident going up to the plate,” Sullivan said Friday. “I haven’t been hitting very well.”
But all it takes is one swing to snap out of a funk. Sullivan didn’t disappoint when she strolled to the plate with the winning run in scoring position in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Sullivan doubled to left field and Molly McNulty sprinted home from second base as Prendie defeated Cardinal O’Hara in walkoff fashion, 1-0. The pitchers’ duel between McNulty and O’Hara’s Jenna Smith lasted a cool 1 hour, 4 minutes.
For Sullivan, the clutch knock lifted a big weight off her shoulders. She didn’t waste time, either. Sullivan blasted a first-pitch fastball to the left-center gap. The ball rolled up Prendie’s dreaded outfield hill.
“It was a confidence booster,” she said. “I was trying to get a hit and to get on base. I was looking to swing at the best pitch.”
McNulty started the inning with a leadoff single. She moved to second base on Allison Martin’s sacrifice bunt.
Sullivan and the Pandas (9-3, 5-2 Catholic League) understand that every game in the Catholic League is a big deal. But beating O’Hara? Yeah, that’s special. In the regular season, there’s no bigger game on the schedule for either team. The rivals had shared some memorable, low-scoring battles on the diamond in recent years, and Friday was more of the same.
A well-played game deserves a thrilling outcome and Sullivan provided the heroics. Her RBI double was the lone offensive highlight for the Pandas. For both teams, this matchup was about pitching and defense. Neither team committed an error.
Martin caught a line drive in center, then fired to first base to nail Allison Ahern for a 7-3 double play to end the sixth inning. Second baseman Kerri Quinn and shortstop Caroline Manfre were steady as can be up the middle.
“I think we have a great defense. We all know how to work well with each other,” said Sullivan, a pitcher/outfielder. “Molly is out there to pitch a great game and everyone is there to back her up.”
McNulty was excellent. The senior ace scattered six hits and struck out three with no walks allowed. She worked
around Kane’s leadoff double in the fourth inning and danced out of danger with runners on first and third in the fifth. In the seventh, Smith and Annemarie Banes led off with singles, but McNulty retired the next three batters with relative ease.
“I have to trust them,” McNulty said of her defense. “It definitely is scary facing (O’Hara) because they can hit so well, especially Maura (Kane), Emily (Loomis) and Annemarie (Banes). They’re all really good so you have to be careful when pitching to them.
“Especially that play in center. I think they had the top of the lineup coming up, so I would have been in trouble if not for that great play,” said McNulty, whose father, Tom, is the first-year head coach of the Pandas. “It was a big play.”
McNulty then trusted Sullivan to deliver with the game on the line.
“Everyone was saying to her, that you just got to have confidence in yourself,” McNulty said. “Clearly, she can hit, but she was not believing in herself. But she did this time and that was great to see.”
For O’Hara (6-6, 5-3), Friday was another frustrating loss against a good team. What’s clear is that O’Hara, with All-Delcos Kane, Loomis and Banes manning the infield, has one of the best teams in the county, but the Lions haven’t quite reached their potential this year.
“We had our chance in the top of the seventh inning, but we didn’t get it done,” said the third baseman Kane, who will play with her sister, Kaela, an O’Hara All-Delco, at Moravian College next spring. “We should’ve slowed the game down sooner and tried to throw Molly off a little, but we really didn’t play that way. They didn’t, either. The game just kept rolling. Nobody made any mistakes.”
With by and large the same team that advanced to the Catholic League final a season ago, the Lions are gearing up for the stretch run. Like Prendie, they will be awfully difficult to beat in May and June.
“Our three Catholic League losses have been by one run,” Banes said. “We’re in every game, which is good. If we’re going to lose, I’d rather do it now instead of later in the season. We got to keep our heads up, but it’s tough.”
Top photo: Bonner & Prendergast convenes after a 1-0 walkoff win over Cardinal O’Hara Friday.