CHELTENHAM >> There wasn’t much, if anything, that Bonner & Prendergast could do to offset the challenge it faced Monday afternoon in its PIAA Class 4A tournament opener.
East Pennsboro pitcher Cailey Joyce entered the day needing one strikeout to record No. 700 in her career, so the Pandas were tasked with trying to solve a Division I-bound player.
Joyce delivered the knockout blow to the Pandas’ season … and did it without allowing a single hit. With full command of the strike zone — featuring a mix of nasty, nastier and nastiest — the La Salle signee made it look fairly easy, registering 12 strikeouts on the way to a 4-0 win. The District 12 champion Pandas ended another outstanding campaign with a 15-8 record.
For despite running into some trouble — she issued three walks and drilled a pair of batters in the first three innings — Joyce could rejoice in knowing she helped the District 2 runners-up get beyond the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.
“We lost in the first round last year,” she said, “and haven’t won in states since I’ve been here.”
Bonner & Prendie made her work for the no-hitter, though, especially early on. Allison Martin led off with a walk in the bottom of the first, but Joyce retired the next three, including a strikeout of Meghan Sullivan, her counterpart in the circle. In the East Pennsboro dugout, there was a homemade “Cailey’s Ks” counter marking the milestone.
“After junior year, I was close to 500. After the first two games of this year, I hit 500,” Joyce said. “I just kept pitching and (the strikeouts) kept coming.”
In the second inning, Joyce worked around another leadoff walk, this time to Mia Falcone, and a hit by pitch. Bonner & Prendie threatened, but Joyce buckled down and notched back-to-back punchouts to end the inning.
“In the beginning, I scared myself a lot there. Oh my goodness,” Joyce said, referring to the early control issues. “But then I was able to really locate my outside pitch, which was probably my best one today.”
Joyce plunked her second batter (Allison Martin) and walked her third (Hayle Rugh) to begin the bottom of the third, but the Pandas couldn’t capitalize. Kaitlyn Martin and Sullivan went down on strikes, then Falcone hit the hardest ball of the day for the Pandas, a rocket to center. Alas, it was run down, and the Pandas let a wonderful scoring opportunity fall by the wayside.
Joyce allowed one more baserunner the rest of the game … and it wasn’t her fault. Erin Grogan got to first base via an error to begin the fourth. Grogan would get caught stealing, and Joyce would go on to retire the final 11 hitters she faced.
“She was a really good pitcher,” Sullivan said. “She really came in with the change-up and the riseball a lot. She really kept us on our toes and I think that’s the main reason why we had so many strikeouts today.”
Sullivan received little help from her defense, which committed four errors. The senior ace struck out nine and scattered six hits, three of them hard-hit doubles in the second and third innings off the bats of Morgan Hutt, Joyce and McKayla Danner. Joyce led off the fourth with a two-bagger and scored the game’s first run on a fielding blunder. Moments later, Danner doubled to make it 2-0.
In the fifth, Joyce singled, moved to second base on a passed ball, then crossed home plate on a single from Jackie McCrea. East Pennsboro tacked on its final run on a sacrifice fly by Danner.
Overall, the box score is not indicative of the way Sullivan threw. She deserved a better fate, even if East Pennsboro players would say they had her well-scouted. After all, last weekend Joyce’s travel team, the Central Pennsylvania Krunch, faced off against Sullivan and her squad, the Valley Forge Patriots.
“The thing is, I had an advantage,” Joyce said. “I had a travel scrimmage on Sunday and she pitched against us, so I knew what she was like and I knew that she was really good.”
The intell that Joyce was able to provide made a difference.
“When I went to practice (later Sunday), I knowingly had a scouting report on her,” she said. “I went to practice and told the girls, ‘She’s really good, but we can hit her. You guys have to be confident when you go to hit.’ So today, as we started to get on it and get some good swings, I started to feel really good even though she was a really good pitcher and she was getting a lot of strikeouts.”
For Sullivan, who will continue her career at West Chester, the good of this season and last far outweighs the bad. She helped lead the Pandas to a Catholic League title last season, and made it back to the state tournament her senior year. Her performance this year resulted in Catholic League player and pitcher of the year honors, two well-deserved honors.
“It’s been more fun than sad,” Sullivan said. “We all really get along well as a team and it’s more than softball to us. We like to goof around, but more times than not we get the job done. It stinks that today’s game didn’t go in our favor, but we’re a young team, too. We’re only losing three seniors, so next year and the year after they’ll really get it together, I think.”