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O'Connell wins third straight conference tourney softball title

Championship was Knights 26th in program history

No problem.

They hadn’t yet been tested much in such a high-pressure situation this season, but falling behind proved no issue for the Bishop O’Connell Knights.

The top seed girls high-school softball team rallied from a mid-game 2-0 deficit to edge the second-seed St. Mary’s Ryken Knights, 3-2, the evening of May 13 in the championship game of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference tournament to remain undefeated at 20-0. O’Connell scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth  inning, then manufactured the game-winning run in the fifth on the George Mason University field to win the title for the third straight time and 26th overall.

Overall, O’Connell has a 51-game winning streak over three seasons (21-0 last spring).

That game-winning run in the WCAC final came with two outs. Leadoff hitter Sofia Anderson reached on a hard-hit ball mis-played by the second baseman. She then stole second and third as No. 2 hitter Sophia Taliaferro intentionally swung and missed at pitches to distract the throw by the Ryken catcher.

The ploy worked. On Anderson’s steal of third, the catcher’s throw sailed into left field. Anderson raced home, but was tagged out on a head-on collision with the catcher on the throw from the left fielder. She was later ruled safe because of obstruction on the catcher for blocking the base path.

“I didn’t have anywhere to run,” Anderson said.

Said Taliaferro: “That was the plan for me to swing and Sofia to steal and we executed it.”

O’Connell scored its first two runs in the fourth inning on an RBI double by Abby Bond and run-scoring single by starting and winning pitcher Bri Lencz to tie the score at 2. Ari Clark (two hits) doubled in the inning.

O’Connell had just four hits off Ryken’s speed-changing and accurate-throwing right-hander Emmaleigh Zagrodnichek. The three runs were the team’s fewest in a game this season.

“She kept us off balance, but this team is so adaptable,” Taliaferro said. “Our coach has a saying of ‘Make lemonade.’ That means take what is given and make the best of it.”

Lencz threw a complete game. She allowed six hits, struck out four and did not yield a run and only one hit after Ryken scored twice on four hits in the third inning. O’Connell did not make a defensive error.

“We knew this game would be tight like this,” O’Connell coach Suzy Willemssen said. “Their pitcher was great but we stayed the course and made adjustments, and Abby, Ari and Bri came up with the big hits.”

O’Connell was 3-0 in the tournament, blanking Holy Cross, 16-0, in the first round then topping St. John’s, 8-1, in a semifinal.

M.J.  Melvin homered twice and drove in six runs against Holy Cross. Bond homered and had three hits; Emma Prykanowski homered; and with two hits each were Lencz, Callie Lissenden, Annie Van Dyck, Anderson and Taliaferro.  Van Dyck and Ella Fletcher combined for the five-inning one-hit shutout.

Melvin and Prykanowski each also homered against St. John’s. Lencz had four hits, Clark and Anderson two and Taliaferro one. Lencz threw a complete game, striking out nine.

NOTES: O’Connell has now won 20 or more games in a season for 30 straight campaigns, not including the two shortened COVID seasons . . . The Knights next enter in the Division I private-school state tournament as the top seed, 11-time defending champion (27 overall) and winners of 33 straight state-tourney games.