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O'Connell softball team repeats as conference tourney champs

Title is the squad 25th in program history
The Bishop O'Connell Knights team gathers with the conference tournament championship trophy.

In addition to the many team strengths possessed by the perennial power Bishop O’Connell Knights, there also is an attribute the girls high-school squad often uses of effectively taking advantage of opponents’ defensive mistakes, even a simple little bobble of a ground ball.

Such a quality can become a big edge in close games, which was the case in the May 14 championship contest of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference tournament between top-seed O’Connell and No. 2-seed St. Mary’s Ryken. O’Connell parlayed four errors, some other missed balls and a couple of wild pitches to take extra bases and, in one case score a run, en route to winning, 5-2, on the George Mason University field.

The victory was O’Connell’s third over Ryken this season, with each game close.

“That’s something we always try to do,” O’Connell coach Suzy Willemssen said about the attribute.

O’Connell finished 3-0 in the tournament and improved to 18-0. The tourney title was the team’s second straight and 25th overall.

“Winning this is totally always a goal,” Willemssen said. “We talk about maintaining a competitive stamina to continue to keep winning this. Against Ryken, we knew it was going to be tough with both teams throwing haymakers in the ring.”

O’Connell senior pitcher Katie Kutz led the victory by throwing a two-hitter and striking out 17. Her one difficult inning was the sixth when she walked two and allowed a double, as Ryken scored its two runs.

“I know what I can throw well, and I had to eventually get back to that in that inning,” Kutz said. “Winning this tournament is what we want and it motivates us to have a target on our backs as the defending champions.”

O’Connell had seven hits in the final, two each by leadoff batter Sofia Anderson and Bri Lencz, who had one RBI. Ari Clark, Abby Bond and Alyssa Dichard had the other hits. Clark, Dichard and Emma Prykanowski had the other RBI. Prykanowski and Sophia Taliaferro had sacrifice bunts.

O’Connell took a 1-0 lead in the second, added three runs in the fourth and one in the fifth.

O’Connell blanked Bishop McNamara, 21-0, on its home Tuckahoe Park field in the first round as Kutz hurled a five-inning perfect game with 13 strikeouts. She threw 56 pitches.

With the bat, Kutz homered, had three hits and three RBI. Dichard (three RBI), Ella Fletcher and Bond (two hits, three RBI) also homered. Prykanowski tripled and had three RBI, Lencz had two hits and three RBI, Clark and Anderson each had two hits and two RBI, and Gigi Payne doubled. O’Connell had 17 hits.

In the semifinals at St. Paul VI Catholic, O’Connell downed Elizabeth Seton, 5-0, as Kutz hurled a seven-inning two-hit shutout with 17 Ks.

O’Connell scored its five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, with Kutz leading off with a long 250-foot solo homer, her 13th round-tripper this season. Dichard had a two-run triple and Prykanowski and Anderson had RBI singles.

“I told them in the sixth all we needed was one run, then three outs in the seventh,” Willemssen said. “Katie really came through with that home run. She’s done that before when hitting for us in big situations. That’s what great players do.”

Now it’s on to the Division I private-school state tournament where O’Connell is the top seed and the 10-time defending champion, having won 30 straight state-tourney games. The team has won 26 state titles in program history.

NOTES: Through this season’s WCAC tournament, O’Connell’s two-season winning streak stands at 29 entering the state tourney.