Poppe pushes Shanahan into AAAA semifinals

Posted: June 08, 2012

Seventy-nine-year-old Bishop Shanahan coach Ron Savastio likes to tell stories about his star pitcher, Kate Poppe.

There's the one in which the boys at the Downingtown baseball and softball clinic saw Poppe pitch and wondered, "How could anyone ever hit her?" Or the time after a game against Unionville when the opposing catcher approached Savastio and told him, "That's the greatest pitcher I've ever faced."

Thursday at Spring-Ford, he told another Poppe story after she pitched the Eagles to the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals with a 4-1 win over Hatboro-Horsham.

A few years back, when Downingtown West and decorated pitcher Caroline Raymond ruled the Ches-Mont League, then-coach Jeff Cellucci made a prediction about Savastio's team and its up-and-coming ace.

" 'Kate Poppe's going to carry you,' " Savastio recalled Cellucci saying, " 'right through the states.' "

The prophecy is coming true in a way neither Savastio nor Poppe could ever have imagined.

Two years ago, the Eagles lost, 3-0, to pitcher Maggie Shaffer and eventual champion Hatboro-Horsham in both the district semifinals and state quarterfinals. "It was just miserable," Poppe said.

This year, the senior righthander reversed the teams' fortunes.

First, she eliminated Shaffer and the Hatters (22-4) from the District 1 playoffs with a one-hit, 17-strikeout shutout on May 25. Thursday, she threw a complete game, allowing just five hits and one run, and slugged a two-run, third-inning home run.

"I knew I wanted them more than any other team. I just wanted to get that game back," Poppe said. ". . . I knew we could beat them this time."

This time, Poppe's teammates had her back. The Eagles (22-3) tallied eight hits and struck out just three times against Shaffer. They made 15 putouts in the field, allowing Poppe to cruise through most of the game despite an uncharacteristically low strikeout total (six).

"The way they threw leather today, there was nobody that was going to beat them," Savastio said. "That was the key. We talked about it and talked about it and talked about it. We couldn't make mistakes - not against this team."

The story of Poppe's home run surely will find its way into Savastio lore.

No. 2 hitter Erica Keen, who led off the third inning with a single and advanced to second on a fielder's choice, was supposed to relay pitch location to the hitter from the second-base bag. On the pitch Poppe belted over the scoreboard in right-center field, Keen forgot.

"I was like, 'All right, I've just got to see it and hit it,' " Poppe said, smiling.

Shanahan will play in its first state semifinal Monday, awaiting the winner of Friday's conclusion of the suspended game between Canon McMillan and Central Mountain.

Whatever Poppe has in store, Savastio will not be surprised.

"Nothing that girl does surprises me," he said.

Hatboro-Horsham   0000010 - 150

Bishop Shanahan   012001x - 480

WP: Kate Poppe. LP: Maggie Shaffer. 2B: HH-Jenn Cader; BS-Julia Fullam. HR: BS-Poppe.

Contact Brian Kotloff at rallysports@phillynews.com.

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