Martha Bleyl’s eyesight worked just fine last Friday.
No cataracts, nor macular denigrations, caused mirages that the tight one-run softball game her granddaughters nurtured had indeed vanished in a sixth-inning hail of leather apparently slung by an A-10 wandering off-course from the Barry Goldwater firing range.
Nope. From out of nowhere, Phoenix Northwest Christian drubbed Pusch Ridge Christian with eight fast runs in the semifinals, a 9-0 final.
Four of Bleyl’s optometrist’s kids suited up on the Northwest Christian team, she said. Worse, the doctor-patient duo traded ribs all week over the upcoming matchup. So when the Lions’ dam broke, Bleyl felt obliged to stride over to the opposing bleachers and humorously concede “things weren’t going too well.”
Pusch Ridge (21-8) had already fallen to the other three teams in the 2A Final Four, during the regular season. This loss to the Crusaders — beaten a day later by Benson in the finals — bookended the Lions’ season, after an opening-day 15-1 defeat.
Another underdog leashed, it would seem.
“I thought it was a good game up until it got so lopsided, but I thought they did real well,” Bleyl offered. “But they play respectfully of the other teams, and to me that’s the way it ought to be played.”
Bleyl was onto something with her stodgy sportsmanship notions, as a curious occurrence took place afterwards.
No gloves were cast to the ground — as were by some other banished squads during the weekend. No half-hour sniffle-huddles seeped from the Lions. And no trash-talking came from the victors, for that matter.
Each side ringed the pitcher’s mound and joined hands, offering respect. Then they broke, and Pusch Ridge offered some more props, skyward. Afterward, the Lions left the field, chins held high.
Despite the Crusaders’ onslaught, Lions coach Phil Fileccia’s girls knew it was only a game; played for God, Family, School and Softball — in that order.
Fileccia never considered pulling his pitcher (and Martha’s granddaughter), Shawna Bleyl, as she was battered in that final inning. The senior’s been accepted to West Point next fall — presumably to study engineering, definitely to sink Navy with her throwing arm.
“You don’t take the ball from someone like that,” Fileccia said, almost radiantly. “You look her in the eye, smile and know that she’s got it.”
As Martha congratulated Shawna outside the fence, you might’ve guessed the affable pitcher left her high school days behind capped with the title.
“It didn’t feel like we lost by that much. It might look harsh when you look at the score, but it doesn’t feel that bad,” Shawna said.
Perhaps winning’s the easy part. Losing respectably takes class, and the Lions showed proper.