NETHER PROVIDENCE — The pitch evaded the glove of Villa Maria catcher of MaryCate Butler. Chichester’s Meghan Wimmer was stationed at third and had taken a comfortable lead off the bag. Her instinct when she saw the ball bounce away from Butler was to break for home plate.
It was a classic darned if you do, darned if you don’t moment.
Wimmer sprinted down the third-base line, then stopped dead in her tracks. The ball had taken the perfect bounce off the cage and into Butler’s glove. Now what?
Wimmer froze because she had no other choice. Butler ran to her and applied the tag for the first out.
This scenario played out in the bottom of the first inning in Thursday’s District One Class AAA softball final at Strath Haven High School between top-seeded Chichester and No. 3 Villa Maria. It turned out to be one of three seismic plays that worked in Villa’s favor.
After a 1-0 loss, Chichester had to live with the regret of not capitalizing on its chances to score runs. At the time Wimmer was caught in nowheresville, there was still plenty of time to recover. The Eagles figured they would have more chances to score runs.
Yet they became few and far between.
Wimmer didn’t sulk. She was excellent on the mound, pumping in 13 strikeouts while allowing four hits. But if she had a do-over, the All-Delco pitcher would have stayed put on the bag. That tough-luck decision set the tone for the Hurricanes, giving them the confidence that they could hang with the heavily favored Eagles.
Had Wimmer scored, the Eagles would’ve had the early lead with another runner at third base and nobody out with the meat of the order due up. Subsequently, Wimmer tipped her cap to Villa Maria, because what else could she do?
“The catcher got a really good bounce off the backstop and did a great job with it,’ Wimmer said, reliving the play like a bad dream. “You’re taught in that spot, when the ball gets behind the catcher, you go. It just came right back to her. When you (go) back to it, yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have gone anywhere. But it was the first inning, so there was a lot of game left. The catcher made a good play.’
The second key play transpired with Villa Maria at the plate in the fourth inning. Leadoff hitter Brianna Wright drilled a Wimmer pitch to the outfield for what should have been a double at most. However, a misplay in the outfield allowed Wright to sprint all the way home, a mistake that held up for the Hurricanes.
Chichester (21-2) didn’t do much against Hurricanes ace Maddie Abbot, who tossed a pair of gems in the district playoffs leading to the championship game. In a second-round win over Marple Newtown, Abbot was perfect. She was on point in Tuesday’s 5-4 victory over Upper Merion, too. Abbot wanted to make sure the Hurricanes avoided a repeat of the teams’ regular-season meeting a few weeks ago, when Wimmer struck out 14 Hurricanes en route to a 4-1 Chichester victory.
“We’ve never won against them until this game,’ said Abbot, who struck out seven while allowing only three singles with no walks. “I definitely think they went into this thinking, ‘ Oh, we got it, because we’re the No. 1 seed.’ Everyone else would think that, too, in their position. But we’ve been practicing really hard for this. Bri had an amazing hit and the fielding was really clean.’
Despite three errors, the Hurricanes made the plays on defense when it counted most. Chichester had another prime opportunity to plate at least a run in the fifth inning. Ashley Feehley started things off with a single. Tiffany Malin then laid down a sacrifice bunt. Third baseman Lisa Becker airmailed the throw to first, allowing Feehley and Malin to move into scoring position. For a second time, the Eagles had runners at second and third with nobody out. But it was all wasted away again.
Eight-hole hitter Janay Harris put down a squeeze bunt, but Abbot fielded the ball to begin a 1-3-2 double play. First baseman Jamie Brown threw home to nail Feehley trying to score the tying run.
The Eagles didn’t have another baserunner the rest of the way.
“Some days it goes your way, some days it doesn’t,’ Wimmer said. “Today, our hitting, one-through-nine, wasn’t as sharp as it has been. They made their plays in the field.’
The loss was a blow for the Eagles, who have lost two of the last three District One Class AAA title contests, but it’s not the end of the world. Chichester has the opportunity to hit the reset button Monday, when it will face the District 12 second-place team in the opening round of the state tournament.
“It’s heartbreaking because you knew this would be the year. We’ve been playing so well, the sticks have been going well for us and, you know, it comes down to having second-and-third two times with no outs and not pushing a run across,’ coach Jamie Blumenthal said. “We just couldn’t get the job done. They outplayed us today, even though Meg pitched great. You give up that one big hit, but you’ve got to be able to score and we weren’t able to do that today.’