The streak lives on and their decades-long dominance of the Division I state tournament continues for the Bishop O’Connell Knights.
The undefeated and third-seed girls high-school softball team (9-0) won the 2021 private-school tournament with a 3-0 record, defeating the top seed Potomac School Panthers, 4-2, in extra innings in the May 21 title game at the Dinwiddie Sports Complex near Petersburg.
The state title is O’Connell’s ninth in a row and 25th in program history. The Knights also have won 27 straight state-tournament games.
Play was sloppy in the state final. The teams combined for nine errors and none of the six runs was earned, in what otherwise was a pitching duel between right-handers Katie Kutz of O’Connell and Maria Urban of Potomac School.
Before the showdown, O’Connell coach Suzy Willemssen had an idea that an error or mistake could decide the outcome.
“We knew it would be a close game, and it lived up to its billing,” she said. “It was a barnburner.”
Entering the tournament, the Knights felt snubbed they were seeded third, believing they should have been the top seed or No. 2 at the least. They used being the third seed as motivation to prove those doing the seeding were wrong.
“These were the best two teams with the best two pitchers,” said Willemssen, in her second season as the Knights’ coach.
In the championship game, O’Connell scored two runs in the top of the first and two in the top of the ninth. Potomac School plated single runs in last of the sixth and seventh to send the contest into extra innings, but O’Connell didn’t give up, despite losing the momentum.
Sara Rollins (two RBI) had the game-winning RBI in the top of the ninth for O’Connell, and Alyssa Dichard (two hits, two RBI) had the other run-scoring hit in that frame.
The Knights had seven hits, with Jerico Tate having two and Madison Gayle and Sofia Anderson one each.
Kutz pitched all nine innings. She struck out 11, gave up five hits, walked two and threw 136 pitches.
O’Connell won despite making six errors.
“We made some plays and got out of some jams in tight situations and had two big hits in the ninth,” Willemssen said.
There were a combined 22 runners left on base, many reaching on errors.
The Knights, as the second seed, also defeated top-seeded Potomac School in the 2019 state final. The tournament was not held in 2020 because of the pandemic.
“We are so thankful we had a state tournament and something to play and prepare for,” Willemssen said. “Everything we did was geared toward the state tournament.”
O’Connell hosted and defeated sixth-seed Paul VI Catholic, 12-0, in a four-inning first-round 2021 state game, then downed No. 2 seed Trinity Episcopal, 7-1, in the May 20 semifinal at the Dinwiddie complex.
Against Paul VI, Kutz threw a four-inning perfect game with eight strikeouts. Kutz also homered with the bat.
Tate had two hits and three RBI, and Sofia Anderson and Sasa Groome each had three hits. Dichard had a two-run single in the first inning to give the Knights a 3-0 lead.
In the win over Trinity Episcopal, Dichard’s first-inning RBI scored Rollins, who had doubled, to get O’Connell started, giving the Knights a 1-0 lead. Dichard had two RBI.
Rollins was 4 for 4 with two RBI, Groome had two hits and two RBI, Sophia Taliaferro (two steals) and Anderson each had two hits and Gayle had a hit. The Knights had 12 hits and struck out just once.
Kutz went all seven innings. She struck out 15, allowed four hits and one earned run and she walked one.
NOTES: Potomac School has never defeated O’Connell in softball, losing four straight seasons to the Knights in the state competition. O’Connell downed the Panthers in the 2017 and 2018 tourney semifinals prior to the 2019 and 2020 state-final meetings . . . Chosen first-team all-state from O’Connell were Kutz, Gayle and Taliaferro. Making second team were Rollins and Tate.