By Matt Popchock
“Kae-la! Kae-la! Kae-la…”
That was the chant emanating from Vincentian Academy’s dugout before Tuesday’s all-important senior day contest.
Whatever happened to just putting your gloves in a circle and yelling “team?” Or how about just a boring old “go V.A.?”
“It was senior day, but we dubbed it ‘Kaela Day,'” manager Kara Stroup said with a laugh, an inside joke in reference to the team’s lone senior.
Center fielder Kaela Huston basked in the lighthearted spotlight, scoring twice and delivering a pair of well-placed bunt singles, so it was indeed “Kaela Day.”
It was also “Rachel Day.” And “Bridget Day.” And “Danielle Day.” Thanks to all of them, this day, rather quickly, was all over but (dare we say) the shouting.
The three-time WPIAL champion Royals (6-4, 6-6) played a terrific and efficient team game, vanquishing Sewickley Academy 11-1 in six-inning, mercy-rule fashion at the Vincentian Academy Athletic Complex Tuesday afternoon.
The victory gave a young Vincentian squad the last playoff spot in Sec. 3-A, and it denied the Panthers (4-6, 6-7) their first postseason appearance in program history.
Second baseman Rachel Balkovec led the immediate onslaught with two runs and four RBI amidst a 3-for-4 day at the plate. Catcher Bridget Melvin paid a physical price for the last of her three RBI, as she was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the third inning.
But the win would not have been complete without junior pitcher Danielle Melvin, who yielded an unearned run on three hits while striking out eight, walking four, and contributing an RBI single in the bottom of the second.
“It’s one of the best outings she’s had,” Stroup said of her pitcher. “One of the things she struggled with early [this season] was walks, but the past couple days she’s cut those down tremendously. She looked very good today.”
“We knew we had to win these last few games to get into the playoffs, and I’m really proud of the heart my teammates and I showed,” Danielle said. “We’ve had a lot of hitting and defensive practice, and it showed. There’s a lot of good things I could point out from this game.”
The Royals, though they eventually pounded out 12 hits, put the game out of reach early with small ball. They scored four times on just one hit–a Bridget Melvin double–in the home half of the first.
Huston was plunked by junior Maddie Greathouse’s second pitch. She stole second and scored the game’s first run on an error by second baseman Kat Dimmick. Melvin’s double to the center field wall with two in scoring position, thanks to a wild pitch by Greathouse, made it 3-0 Vincentian, and Melvin came home on a one-out sacrifice bunt.
“We played very much classic Vincentian softball today, which was good to see,” Stroup said. “The younger players weren’t confident early on, but they’ve gotten some key hits, and they’ve started to figure out that they are capable.”
Vincentian doubled its lead in the second, starting with a two-run double by Balkovec that gave the Royals a six-run cushion. Balkovec would come in when third baseman Emma Deihel couldn’t handle Bridget Melvin’s ground ball, then Danielle Melvin’s run-scoring single made it 8-0 Vincentian.
Greathouse gave up nine earned runs in defeat, striking out four and walking six. Sewickley helped her prolong the game by getting on the board in the top of the fourth when Deihel, who had two of the Panthers’ hits, came around on a passed ball and subsequent throwing error by Bridget Melvin. Greathouse helped herself by getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning with Vincentian seeking a ten-run lead.
The Royals, however, finally got it in the next frame, which began with back-to-back singles. Huston then bunted herself aboard for the second time, and Balkovec followed with an RBI single up the middle to put her team in the playoffs with what may be a deceivingly mediocre record.
“Four fantastic seniors from last year are gone,” Danielle said, “but we’ll be at our best, and I think teams might underestimate us because of our youth.”
“We’ve gotten rolling now that we’ve been able to play [in the improved weather],” Stroup said. “We’re starting to climb the mountain.”
For a preview of the WPIAL Softball Playoffs, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports this weekend!