When Michael Smith was interviewing to be the Berks Catholic softball coach more than six years ago, he had a very simple message for then-athletic director Bill Hess.
“The first thing I told him was, ‘I want to get this team to counties,’ ” Smith said.
After methodically building the program and qualifying for the county playoffs for the first time in his tenure a year ago, the Saints took the next step — a giant leap for a program in its 12th year of existence — on Thursday night.
Sixth-seeded Berks Catholic won the first Berks Softball League title in program history, defeating fourth-seeded Kutztown 3-1 at Lyons Field.
“It’s everything,” Smith said. “Once you’re the first, nobody can ever take that away.”
The Saints (16-3) entered the 2023 Berks playoffs with just one win — a 2022 quarterfinal victory over the Cougars — in three county postseason appearances since the school was founded ahead of the 2011-12 academic year following the merger of Central Catholic and Holy Name. Thursday was Berks Catholic’s first appearance in the county final.
“We got there and we finished the job,” Smith said. “It’s exciting. We changed the culture and the thinking and the attitude.”
Shortstop Rebecca Adams knocked in the go-ahead run with a double in the top of the sixth inning, allowing pitcher Danielle Hayward to score and giving the Saints to a 2-1 lead. Adams came around to score on a throwing error to make it 3-1.
“I knew I had to come in clutch for my team,” Adams said. “It’s just a big moment, and you can’t stress too much.”
Adams, a senior, finished 1-for-2 with the RBI double. While it proved to be the most important hit of the game, Adams was quick to acknowledge the rest of her team.
“We have an amazing group of girls,” Adams said. “We is greater than me. It’s not all about one person.”
Hayward put Berks Catholic in a prime position to win with a standout performance in the circle. The junior allowed one run and scattering seven hits in seven innings.
“We get to represent our sport and our school,” Hayward said. “It’s amazing. Being the first ones is just unreal.”
Hayward finished with eight strikeouts and no walks. She also scored the Saints’ first run, scooting home on a throwing error in the first inning to make it 1-0.
“I wasn’t on as much as I was Tuesday night (in the semifinals),” Hayward said. “I just needed to use everything that I had and rely on my defense behind me.”
Hayward and the Saints kept Kutztown’s offense quiet. The lone run for the Cougars (18-5) came in the fourth inning when designated player Felicia Oldt hit a single to knock in third baseman Samantha Furst.
Cougars pitcher MaKayla Drey allowed three runs on just four hits in seven innings. She struck out three.
“That’s a great team over there,” Smith said about Kutztown. “Can’t say enough about how good they are on that side either.”
Ten-time county champions, Kutztown was making its first appearance in the final since 2009. The Cougars have won the most titles in Berks history, with their most recent coming in 2002.
Even though they were facing the most storied program in the county, Smith and his players believed in what they had built since the very beginning.
“They got to that level where they’re confident, but not overconfident,” Smith said. “We treat ourselves like underdogs. We have that mentality.”
Source: Berkshire mont