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In-depth: Kellenberg's state championship

Kellenberg's celebrates after winning the championship against Font

Kellenberg's celebrates after winning the championship against Font Bonne 8-2 in the CHSAA softball state finals at Queens College in Flushing,. (Credit: ULI SEIT)

On the very same day, Kellenberg won a second straight state title and Sabrina DeAngelis threw a no-hitter in the semifinals.

Not even Shakespeare himself could fit all of the details from two major storylines into the 350 words that made it into Thursday's newspaper.  Details such as…

DeAngelis facing the minimum 21 batters in what was the most important start of her career (Until the next game, of course).

Or Amy Quinn showing why she’s the best nine-hitter in Long Island (Kellenberg had us all fooled, she’s a nine-hitter in title only).

Or Krista King dropping a bunt double. (Yes, a double…that’s no typo).

Or even the owl that perched itself on the backstop for half an inning before soaring down into centerfield, sending the second base umpire and Fontbonne center fielder running for cover (Comical but also frightening when you’ve seen too many of those “When Good Animals Go Bad” television specials).   

Or the countless other noteworthy tidbits that deserve mentioning. So we’ll post them here, along with plenty of postgame reaction from players and coach Ken Conrade. Clear your schedule because we are about to go 2,000 words deep.

Where better to start than with DeAngelis’ no-hitter?

Entering the season, DeAngelis was faced with the responsibility of shifting from first base to the circle full time. There she would succeed the two-time defending CHSAA Pitcher of the Year, Susan Pardo, who had just guided the Firebirds to an unbeaten season and the program’s first state title.

DeAngelis carried the Firebirds to the state tournament from the loser’s bracket - where Kellenberg had to defeat St. Anthony’s in the semifinal and then win two straight over St. John the Baptist, a team that defeated Kellenberg three times this season, breaking the Firebirds’ 50-game league winning streak.

In the 3-0 semifinal win over St. Joseph-by-the-Sea, the only runner to reach base against DeAngelis was just barely hit on the forearm by a pitch in the second inning. Though it cost DeAngelis a perfect game, the runner was negated during the next at-bat when Krista King, Amanda Crimarco and Cristen Whigham turned a 4-6-3 double play.

Stephanie Staiano drilled a double over the left fielders’ head in the first inning to score Lindsey Wiese in the bottom of the first inning. Kellenberg then used some trickery to tack on another run. With Staiano on third and Gianna Razza on first with two outs in the fourth, Razza took off for second base then retreated. But not before the catcher took the bait and threw down to second, allowing Staiano to steal home. The throw home was late and when it was all said and done, Kellenberg had a 2-0 lead and Razza ended up on third base. Amanda Coletta then followed with an RBI single to bring home Razza to make it 3-0.

Staiano went 2-for-3 with an RBI and Nikki DiTizio was 1-for-1 with a pair of walks. 

DeAngelis struck out five batters, rarely worked from behind in the count, and gave her outfielders the game off by not allowing a ball to leave the infield. She said she wasn’t hitting her spots with her curve, one of her better pitches, so she went to her screw ball and drop, which helped induce 12 ground ball outs that her infielders retrieved flawlessly.   

Here’s some postgame reaction from DeAngelis after the no-no:

On throwing a no-hitter in the biggest start of her career: “It feels great. I’ve been working all year for this and I couldn’t be any happier.”

On her pitch selection: “In the beginning, my pitches were kind of off. I had to compose myself. The curve, which is one of my really good pitches, was off from the beginning. So I threw the screw and drop and let them hit it to the fielders and I seemed to work.”

On her infielders: “They’re always behind me. I’m never worried. Whenever the ball is hit behind me, I know they’re going to get it.”

On the HBP costing her a perfect game: “It wasn’t even that much inside…but whatever, I’m happy with what I got.”

On a selfish Mike Gavin asking her to throw another no-hitter in the championship game to make the story a Pulitzer winner: “I’ll try my best.”

Now lets hear from her coach and teammates:

Ken Conrade on the no-hitter and throwing the double header:  “That’s her conditioning. She’s a horse both mentally and physically.”

Conrade on DeAngelis’ season: “For her it’s remarkable to be able to fill in those shoes. Every time she pitched, the opposition wanted to prove that they could beat the undefeated CHSAA state champs. She didn’t just have to pitch against the opposition, she had to pitch to a legacy, which is extremely demanding.”

Stephanie Staiano: “Sabrina with that no hitter, she worked so hard. The defense was so strong. The energy was there, the confidence was there.”

Krista King: “Sabrina definitely stepped up big time. She stepped right into Susan’s shoes and did a great job. She was phenomenal. I love Sabrina more than anything, I have her back no matter what.”

Now onto the state championship game, an 8-2 win over Fontbonne.

Even with the game starting a mere hour and a half or so after the final pitch of her no-hitter, DeAngelis carried another no-hitter into the fifth inning. Natalia Sroga led off the fifth with what seemed like a 20-pitch at-bat that included a near double over the third base bag and a foul pop down the right field line that Amy Quinn sacrificed her body for in an attempt to make the catch, taking a hard dive into the tarp. But with the count full, Sroga lifted a bloop single into shallow center field, bringing DeAngelis’ streak of 11 hitless innings to an end.

“I was a little disappointed,” she said of finally allowing a hit, “but I was looking forward to the win.”

DeAngelis allowed another single and a walk to load the bases with one out, before escaping with a pair of strikeouts to secure Kellenberg’s 1-0 lead.

Just as she did in the semifinal, Staiano opened the scoring in the first with an RBI single to score King. The Firebirds scored four runs in the fifth inning, highlighted by Quinn’s RBI single and a bases clearing single by the Rider-bound Amanda Crimarco in her final Kellenberg at-bat.  

During the rally, King hit what was essentially a slow rolling, 15-foot double. She dropped a bunt down the third base line, and as the fielders waited for it to roll foul, which it never did, King never stopped running.  By the time anyone noticed, she was already on second base for what may be the first bunt double in the history of organized softball.

 “I’ve never seen a play like that,” Conrade said.  “Krista is unique because of her small stature but her natural speed actually intimidates opponents. It’s great to have her lead off a game and run down that line because, even if she gets thrown out, it plants a seed in the opposition's mind that it’s going to be a problem the whole game.”

After Fontbonne scored two runs to pull with 5-2 in the sixth, Kellenberg answered with three more runs in the bottom of the inning. King - who finished 3-for-4 with an RBI, two runs scored and a stolen base – singled to drive in DiTizio. DeAngelis followed with an RBI single off the pitcher and Staiano added an RBI groundout to make it 8-2.

Quinn, who essentially serves as a second leadoff hitter in the nine-hole with King batting behind her,  finished 3-for-3 and was a home run a shy of hitting for the cycle.

“We moved her to the nine spot because we felt it was a comfort zone for her,” Conrade said of Quinn.  “She was very happy to go there, she wanted to work out of the slump she was in. We said this will give you a simple role and it seemed to alleviate the stress of hitting second. It gave us that nine-one combination. She has an awful lot of power for a nine hitter. So it helped her out which in turn helped the team out.”

Added Quinn of the double leadoff combination of her and King: “I’d like to think it’s dangerous.”

DeAngelis - who allowed two runs, five hits and three walks with five strikeouts in the final - worked a perfect seventh inning, capped with a grounder to second base that King tossed to Whigham for the final out to seal Kellenberg’s second straight state title.

So, the question was asked, both as a group and to some individually, which state title was sweeter, the first or the second?

Ken Conrade: “I’ve got to be honest with you, no disrespect to the kids last year but this is better.  Just because it’s two in a row, which is unheard of in high school athletics, and because this group had to battle out of a particularly difficult spot in the loser’s bracket.”

Amanda Coletta: “I’d have to say the second one because we weren’t sure that we were going to make it this time. We overcame our fears and did it and it felt so much better.”

Stephanie Staiano: “The second one. They are both so special but this was insane, unreal. Second time around you don’t really expect it and then we did it as a family. We did it with heart. It’s all about the heart and the passion.”

Amanda Crimarco: “I think this one was because we had to work harder to get this one.”

Amy Quinn: “Maybe this one a little more. To be honest, the first one was more about the rivalry and this one was about the title. But they both felt just as amazing.”

Krista King: “I’d have to say the first one was pretty sweet because it was the first ever, but this year coming from the loser’s bracket is something that’s unheard of and it feels incredible.”

Sabrina DeAngelis:  “The second one is much better. We couldn’t be perfect like last year and we fought so hard to get here. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.”

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Here are some additional quotes from Kellenberg coach Ken Conrade:

On Lindsey Wiese, who has what Kellenberg calls a “baserunning marriage” with Sabrina DeAngelis because she is DeAngelis’ courtesy runner whenever she gets on base: “Lindsey’s speed is so prolific that with Sabrina’s offensive power, it enables Lindsay to go in there and give us a huge upgrade in speed.”

On Amanda Coletta recently taking over in center field: “She really worked hard to solidify her outfield defense. About three weeks ago, in a random scrimmage game, we put her out in center field, and the position just took.  She saw the ball better, she was aggressive on the ball, and we revamped our whole outfield because of the change and it made a big difference or us.”

On the seven Kellenberg seniors -- DeAngelis, Staiano, Crimarco, Coletta, Quinn and Lauren and Lindsey Wiese: “They’re very unique. They kept the team together and created a bond with the juniors. They made sure no one felt like an outcast, that was big part of our chemistry.”

On Kathryn Eiler, who was called up from junior varsity to take over for Allie Pisciotta, the two-time CHSAA Player of the Year: “That’s been a huge change for her because last year she played JV softball so this was a big step up. I am astounded at her ability to upgrade her play to the varsity level in such a short period of time. Behind the plate, her ability to receive and call games but also to throw runners out. Wednesday, nobody even tried to run on us because her feet are so quick with her feet and she receives the ball so well. Just her posture intimidates the opposition from attempting steals. At the plate she was very productive for us. When you can come up as a junior and hit .320 or so and fill in at the six-hole, that’s great.”

On first baseman Cristen Whigham, another first year varsity player: “Another pleasant surprise. She hit around .333 and we spent a few weeks finding her footwork and her hands over at first base. She became an excellent receiver at first base and that’s a big thing for us because of the number of ground balls that Sabrina induces.”

On the season overall: “There was a point where we all felt we were in our own way mentally, and they fixed that. St. John’s gave us great competition and it was hard, every time we went out somebody wanted to prove that they could beat us. It started to mount on us and we had to learn how to battle through that stuff and obviously they did that.

“Winning two straight state titles is surreal, it doesn’t happen too often. I give them a lot of credit. This one is extremely special because we came out of the loser’s bracket. This is the toughest group of kids I’ve ever coached.”

Tags: Kellenberg , Sabrina DeAngelis , Krista King , Stephanie Staiano , Amanda Crimarco , Amy Quinn , Amanda Coletta , Lindsey Wiese , Lauren Wiese , Cristen Whigham , Kathryn Eiler , Gianna Razza , Nikki DiTizio , Ken Conrade

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