Each of the last four years has brought a new opponent for O’Connell in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference softball championship. Still, for a team in search of its 10th straight title, complacency has been perhaps O’Connell’s greatest nemesis during its impressive run.
That threat loomed Saturday when rain clouds rolled over George Mason University’s field, delaying O’Connell’s matchup with St. Mary’s Ryken for an hour in the bottom of the sixth inning. But with senior ace Tori Finucane on the mound and a multi-run lead in hand, neither weather nor upstart St. Mary’s Ryken could stop No. 2 O’Connell. Finucane threw a one-hitter and struck out 11 batters to lead the Knights to a 5-0 win and their 17th WCAC title in the last 20 years.
“We were a little antsy and ready to get back out there,” O’Connell senior catcher Jillian Ferraro said. “If it was a tie game, the delay probably would’ve been more uncomfortable, but with a four-run lead and Tori out there pitching, we felt secure. . . . I think in the end the rain actually took some of the excitement out of winning the championship again.”
Before the delay, O’Connell (27-1) took hold of the momentum early. A St. Mary’s Ryken fielding error allowed Mary Burk to score and put O’Connell up 1-0 in the bottom of the first. In the next inning, Erin Sweeney added to the lead by crossing home plate on a sacrifice fly by Shannon Murphy.
“I believe we have the best pitcher-catcher combo in the area with Jillian and Tori, but what’s made the difference for us is how the rest of the lineup has evolved around those two,” O’Connell Coach Tommy Orndorff said. “When you can get to the sixth batter and still make things happen, that’s a great thing.”
After her teammates backed up her strong pitching, Finucane helped her own cause by belting a two-run triple to left field that put O’Connell up 4-0 after three innings.
O’Connell remained in control when the rain began to pour in the sixth inning, but Orndorff used the delay to remind his players that there was still work to be done with five outs remaining.
Jordan Aughinbaugh led off the seventh with a single to give St. Mary’s Ryken (19-5) its first hit, providing a potential spark for her team. But Finucane retired the next three batters to close the game and extend O’Connell’s dominance.
“We lost a little bit of energy during the delay, so we had to make sure we got back into championship mode,” said Finucane, who now has 306 strikeouts on the season. “But this team is so solid one through nine, so we knew if we played our game and kept doing what got us here, we’d finish out strong.”