Ragdoll redemption

A big hit: Archbishop Ryan junior pitcher Nikki Michalowski homered and pitched a complete game in her team’s 7–5, extra-inning win over Little Flower. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA /TIMES PHOTOS

If last Friday afternoon’s regular-season softball finale between Archbishop Ryan and Little Flower offered any indication, the Catholic League playoffs should be quite a doozy.

With Kerri Dadalski and Nikki Michalowski leading the way, the Ragdolls can’t wait to get started.

Dadalski tripled and homered twice, including a two-run shot in extra innings, and Michalowski tossed a complete game on the mound while adding a two-run homer of her own as Ryan captured a thrilling, 7–5 eight-inning win. The pair helped spoil Little Flower’s Senior Day, somehow escaping with a win despite three blown leads and ace pitcher Lindsey Gibbs’ 13 strikeouts.

It was a victory that the Ragdolls desperately wanted heading into the ultra-competitive Catholic League postseason, where Ryan (9–3 in league play) will serve as the №5 seed (of 10 total qualifiers). Little Flower (6–6), which dipped to the eighth seed following the loss, pushed Ryan to the limit by throwing the kitchen sink at its opponent, offering a further glimpse of why every team in the league believes it has a shot to take home the ultimate prize. (In 2012, St. Hubert took home the title as the league’s top seed; the Bambies are №2 in 2013, behind Conwell-Egan, whom Ryan defeated 3–2 on April 23.)

“It was definitely intense the whole game,” said Dadalski, a sophomore center fielder who reached base all four times she batted and scored three of the Raiders’ seven runs. “It was one of my best games, both hitting and in the field. My team played really well, and it’s really exciting to come away with a win in a great game like that.”

Dadalski’s eighth-inning heroics were needed after her team let leads of 1–0, 3–2 and 5–4 slip away. A two-out wild pitch in the bottom of the seventh sent the game to extras, but Ryan quickly deflated Little Flower’s balloon when freshman shortstop Sarah Ostaszewski reached on a leadoff bullet single to center the next inning. Dadalski then stepped in and cranked a homer to deep left, and Michalowski buckled down to shut the door in the eighth to gut out a hard-earned win.

For Dadalski, the win carried a little extra in the way of bragging rights. Her cousin, freshman Tori Sherwood, plays center field for Little Flower; in fact, Dadalski’s second-inning home run sailed over Sherwood’s head in the outfield. In the Catholic League, it’s not uncommon for girls on one team to be related to, or close friends with, competitors on other teams. Almost everybody knows everybody from playing with and against one another on grade school and summer tournament teams, which adds yet another wrinkle to such a parity-filled, cutthroat league.

“Every game is so competitive and exciting, especially now with the championship coming up,” Dadalski said. “It’s a lot of fun to see how often teams jump around in the standings. You know all of these girls, and you have respect for them and their teams. For us, it teaches us that we can’t care about who we play, just that we have to bring our ‘A’ game every time. That’s a big part of winning.”

For Michalowski, the win also carried extra gratification. Admittedly, she didn’t have her best stuff, issuing nine walks on the mound, which probably let Little Flower hang around longer than necessary. However, Michalowski hung in there until the end, helping herself out with the two-run homer in the third and believing that her teammates would have her back on the rest.

“It’s awesome to know I can depend on them to pick me up,” she said. “Especially Kerri. She really understands how to pick me up, because I know she wants to win as badly as I do. From the beginning, this team just has had real good chemistry. Everybody has an off day here and there, but it’s about banding together to rely on each other when that happens. I know that if someone hits a bomb off me, we’re going to get it back.”

For Michalowski, that includes staying sharp at the plate. Unlike the dynamic Gibbs, who doesn’t bat for the Sentinels, Michalowski hits third for Ryan, meaning her bat is just as important to the team’s success as her right arm. She’s learned how to balance the two from her older sisters, both of whom played softball for Ryan: eldest sister Sara started as a pitcher in high school but went on to become a Division-I third baseman at Hofstra, where she was the 2011 Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year; there’s also Jenna, who played first base and graduated from Ryan in 2011.

“Whenever I need help, on or off the field, they’re both always there for me,” Nikki said of her sisters. “They’ve been through it all, and they always work with me. If I’m struggling with my hitting or pitching, we go to the field and we work it out.”

Dadalski, a sophomore, and juniors Michalowski, Jenna Magee (second base) and Catherine Hammer (catcher) lead the way for a team that has just two seniors, neither of whom started on Friday. Both Dadalski and Michalowski said class standing is irrelevant if a team makes up for it in overall chemistry.

“We’re young, but we blend together real well,” Dadalski said. “It’s exciting knowing mostly all of us will be back next year. We want to build something.”

Michalowski echoed that statement, which was no more evident than after she allowed the tying run to score on the wild pitch in the seventh. Instead of buckling and allowing the winning run to score from third, she glanced toward her bench still standing and cheering her on, smiled and struck the final batter out. Dadalski then applied the finishes touches on the victory.

“The pressure affects me emotionally sometimes, but I do enjoy it,” Michalowski said. “Knowing your teammates understand that pressure and still cheer you on when you make a mistake, that’s just an awesome feeling.”

Michalowski, Dadalski and the rest of the Ragdolls hope they have a few more awesome performances left in them. Their first opportunity will come Thursday at fourth-seeded Lansdale Catholic, while Little Flower played an opening-round contest against Archbishop Wood on Monday. (Behind 12 more strikeouts from Gibbs, Little Flower prevailed over Wood, 3–0, advancing to take on top-seeded Conwell-Egan on Thursday.)

Whatever happens, one thing is clear: the Ragdolls believe in each other. While nine other capable teams will be chasing the same goal, Ryan would be crazy not to have faith in its ability to win a title, not after Friday’s roller coaster ride.

“We all get along and have fun,” Dadalski said. “We’re a young team, but we don’t have that ‘girl drama’ that some teams might. We go out there with the same goals, and we all love the game so much. We have confidence, and we think we have a very good chance of winning a championship. As long as we continue on the same page and believe in each other, we know we can do it.” ••

Sports Editor Ed Morrone can be reached at 215–354–3035 or emorrone@bsmphilly.com