Common threads link Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery Media Softball Team of Decade semifinalists

The Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery Media Softball Team of the Decade bracket is down to four teams.

Top seed Souderton of 2014 faces No. 4 Spring-Ford (2019) in one semifinal while No. 3 North Penn (2013) duels No. 7 Lansdale Catholic (2014). Souderton is the only state champion among the quartet, but there are a number of similarities that cross between the final four.

Fan voting continues on Twitter at @ReporterSports until noon Sunday.

All four teams had a lengthy stay in the postseason picture, part of the reason they were selected for the initial 16-team bracket. Spring-Ford, which won the PAC title last spring, is the only one of the four to have a league title to its name, but LC came close to matching that with a PCL title game appearance in the spring of 2014.

The Crusaders do have one thing the other three don’t in a district title. Despite losing to Archbishop Ryan in the PCL final, LC moved on in the postseason and squashed Franklin Towne Charter for the District 12-3A title before embarking on its state playoff push.

Souderton team members rally together during their District 1-4A second round game against West Chester East at Souderton Area High School on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. (Mark C Psoras/MediaNews Group File)

Interestingly, Spring-Ford, Souderton and North Penn all saw their respective District 1 title quests quelled in the same spot. All three teams were bounced from districts in the semifinals and all lost to the eventual District 1 champion with Souderton falling to Avon Grove in 2014, North Penn to Neshaminy in 2013 and Spring-Ford to Downingtown West a year ago.

North Penn would lose in the third place game to Pennsbury in 2013, but Souderton rebounded to beat the 2014 version of Spring-Ford in the 2014 consolation game while the Rams bested Pennsbury in 2019.

States proved fruitful as all four teams reached the state semifinals in their respective classifications. While Souderton was the only team to advance to the final, LC and North Penn’s runs to the PIAA final four remain the deepest either program has gone into states while Spring-Ford made its second semifinals in a three year span (2017).

In another quirk, only Souderton had an upperclassman as its starting pitcher during the postseason while the others all featured a sophomore in the circle. Indians senior Erelle Sowers, a 17-game winner, navigated the unpredictable nature of the playoffs well, guiding the Indians through a couple close but high-scoring games but also putting the clamps on opposing offenses highlighted by a 2-0 shutout of DuBois in the state semis.

On a team laden with seniors, LC sophomore Ashley Seal was able to rise to their level while handling the bulk of pitching duties. She posted a 13-3 record in 17 starts including six shutouts that helped her to a 2.05 ERA while also serving as a .300 hitter offensively.

Spring-Ford shortstop Jules Ryan, left, and first baseman Ashley Della Guardia, right, run to pitcher Bri Peck after Peck completes her complete game against Garnet Valley in the District 1-6A quarterfinals on Friday, May 24, 2019. (Owen McCue/MediaNews Group)

For Spring-Ford, it was sophomore Brianna Peck. Peck took on more and more pitching duties as the season extended and finished with a 16-1 record, 0.79 ERA and a Gatorade PA State Player of the Year award to match an extremely productive bat on offense.

North Penn’s Jackie Bilotti was equally important in her team’s success in 2013. A four-year starter for the Knights, Bilotti’s second season saw her go 18-9 with a 2.38 ERA on top of being one of the team’s top hitters. The winning pitcher in North Penn’s 2012 district title, Bilotti led the Knights to states three straight years and was the first player in program history to surpass 50 wins in the circle.

All four semifinalists found the right mix of experience and upperclassmen with young players who proved they could contribute in big spots.

Lansdale Catholic had six seniors in 2014, all of them playing in at least 24 games and including Kristin Szczepaniak and Greta Sheridan who had 27 and 24 RBIs respectively. Alicia Kradzinski, Bridgette Harkins, Jenna Gibbons and Alyssa Messina rounded out LC’s seniors, who were supported by juniors Amanda Bradley and Kaelyn Motts and sophomores Seal and Alessandra Messina. Sophomore Abby Caruso and freshman Maggie Wunder also saw time off LC’s bench filling a variety of the roles, mainly on the basepaths.

North Penn’s Erin Maher (4, right) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a run against Pennridge during their District 1-4A quarterfinal on Saturday May 25, 2013. (Mark C Psoras/MediaNews Group File)

Likewise, North Penn blended seniors with a strong cast of sophomores and juniors. Michelle Holweger, Melissa Fasick, Alexa Gable, Jenn Halcovage, Hannah Sheehan and Morgan Wiernusz made up the 2013 Knights senior class while juniors like Erin Maher and Vicky Tumasz and the sophomore class including Bilotti and Becky Christoffers formed the backbone of the lineup.

Spring-Ford’s five seniors in Bridget Sharkey, Julia Heine, Maddy Little, Jules Hughes and Logan Bonewitz experienced two state semifinal runs and helped the program add a PAC title in their time as Rams. In 2019, they were supported by a strong junior class that featured Julianne Ryan and Ashley Della Guardia and sophomores including Peck and Noelle Reid.

The Indians’ four seniors in 2014 also took up the first four spots in the batting order. Co-captains Sowers, Amanda Brush, Paige Shelly and Haley DeLaney also anchored crucial spots defensively and set the table for the underclassmen around them, notably in junior Morgan Yoder, sophomores Dayna Shelly and Missy Wiley and freshmen Angie Carty and Savannah Bostwick.

All four squads bring an impressive resume and balanced rosters to the table, but only two will make it through the weekend.

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