Forget April showers bringing May flowers. At Kellenberg, April tears brought May cheers.
Flip back the calendar to a foggy, rainy afternoon in mid-April at St. John the Baptist High School. After a 2-1 loss to the Cougars, members of the Kellenberg softball team sat on the outfield grass with tears rolling down their faces.
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"We weren't expecting to lose," pitcher Sabrina DeAngelis said. "When we did, it was very upsetting to us. We felt like we had let everyone down."
It was only the ninth game of a season that was merely two weeks old.
Before breaking out the "There's no crying in softball!" motto, understand that the loss ended Kellenberg's 50-game league winning streak, which dated to 2010. For seniors Amanda Crimarco and Stephanie Staiano, it was their first loss against a Long Island opponent.
"We treat every game like it's the championship game, so that loss really affected us," shortstop Crimarco said. "But after that, it was almost like something was lifted off of us . . . Now that loss is the furthest thing from my mind."
Yes, winning a second straight CHSAA state championship, as Kellenberg went on to do, certainly helped erase those bad memories and dry those eyes. But not before St. John the Baptist went on to defeat Kellenberg two more times, including their first meeting of the double-elimination playoffs to put the Firebirds on the brink of elimination.
That's when Kellenberg's season turned around . . . and those frowns turned upside down.
The Firebirds defeated St. Anthony's two straight in what started a streak of six consecutive do-or-die victories. Later that afternoon, with the Firebirds nursing a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning, St. John's loaded the bases and was within a base hit of a league title. But DeAngelis got the strikeout for the final out to force a deciding game between the two.
The next day, the Kellenberg bats exploded for an 11-3 win behind three hits each from DeAngelis and Amy Quinn to capture a third straight league title.
"We have high expectations for ourselves," second baseman Krista King said. "But we knew we didn't have to go undefeated in order to win states. In a way, the losses took some pressure off us and allowed us to exhale."
DeAngelis then tossed a no-hitter in a 3-0 state semifinal win over St. Joseph by-the-Sea, in which Staiano and Amanda Coletta each drove in a run. Just a few hours later, DeAngelis carried a no-hitter into the fifth, Quinn collected three more hits and Crimarco hit a three-run single as Kellenberg defeated Fontbonne, 8-2, in the title game, setting off a frenzied celebration.
So much for the tears, right? Not exactly. Cut to the ride home after winning the championship on that sunny, muggy afternoon in late May.
"We all sat on the bus and cried harder than we ever have," Staiano said. "We cried when we lost, we cried when we won. But it was definitely a lot more fun to cry after winning a state championship."