Under ordinary circumstances, their final season would have played out in nearly the same fashion the last one ended.
On that final day of the 2019 campaign, in a winner-take-all Game 3 of the AMCC Tournament quarterfinals, Sophia Fratercangelo reached base twice in four plate appearances. Her twin sister, Bethany, had one of her best games of the spring, going 2-for-2 with a double, two walks and two runs scored.
From an individual standpoint, the sisters were their typically productive selves. And if it wasn’t for D’Youville’s three-run top of the eighth at the start of extra innings, which ultimately propelled it to a 6-4 victory, it would have been the Fratercangelos’ Pitt-Bradford team, and not the Spartans, that moved on to the semifinals.
This, though, was going to be their year.
As two of only three seniors on the UPB roster, Sophia and Bethany figured to be counted on not only for their bats, but also their leadership. If all had gone well, perhaps they might have guided the Panthers to that elusive AMCC Final Four.
Of course, these are anything but ordinary circumstances.
The twins were among the thousands of spring collegiate athletes who had their seasons -- and potentially their careers, depending on how an approved added year of eligibility can be worked out -- come to a sudden end due to the COVID-19 outbreak earlier this month.
THIS, however, isn’t another reaction story to what was so cruelly taken away and the devastating reality that they might have played their final games in a Pitt-Bradford uniform. It’s a celebration of the time they did have as collegiate softball players and a bond that has been formed almost literally since birth.
In a decade-plus as teammates, the Fratercangelos have taken largely similar approaches to the game. It’s a standard that has allowed each to garner all-conference status, Sophia as a second-teamer last spring and Bethany as a third-teamer in 2017.
It might come as no surprise, then, that they share a favorite memory from their three-plus years at UPB: Helping the Panthers reach the AMCC Tournament last May, the program’s first trip since 2014.
“My favorite memory, personally, was last year … because that was the first time anyone on our team had actually been there,” Bethany said. “I think we were all just very excited to be there.” Added Sophia: “Just being able to be there competing in the playoffs was new for us, and it was just really exciting and really fun.”
THE SISTERS have been teammates since before they could even fully say each other’s names.
When they were still learning to talk, Sophia referred to Bethany as “Betty,” a moniker that became first a family nickname and eventually what Bethany chose to go by since everyone had already begun to call her that.
The pair were key cogs on an Olean High team that went a combined 34-9 and reached the sectional semifinals in both 2015 and ‘16 and laid the groundwork for the Huskies squads that went on to win a sectional title (in 2017) and reach the New York State Class B Final Four (in 2018).
They forged a successful collegiate career together, not only earning all-AMCC accolades, but being named NFCA scholar athletes, as well. In 2019, they were starters on the Panthers’ most successful team in a half-decade.
Part of what has made playing softball so special for the twins is looking out onto the field or in the dugout and seeing the other sister there.
“It’s always been really fun because, one, I know I have a friend on the team no matter what team I play for,” Betty said. “And it’s just nice because we can go home, we can talk about it, we know that no matter what we say, it’s going to stay between us, and it’s just nice to have somebody you’ve been playing with your whole life be there for you for all your big moments and be there through all your bad moments, too.”
Said Sophia, “You always have at least one person that has your back no matter what. You get to share the big moments with someone who’s your best friend.”
YES, THERE’S some sibling rivalry involved.
Betty had the big freshman year, hitting .309 with a team-leading 14 walks and posting an impressive .447 on-base percentage while scoring 14 runs, third-most on the team. Sophia stood out last year, batting .250 while notching 15 RBIs, eight runs scored and a perfect fielding percentage as an outfielder.
Having always been teammates, however, that’s only gone so far.
“When my sister is up to bat, I’m probably the one who wants her to get a hit the most,” said Betty, who was a Big 30 all-star alongside Sophia in both 2015 and ‘16. “Even though I do want to be better than her, I’m the one in the dugout more than anybody who wants her to get a hit or do something good.”
And, in that way, they’ve pushed each other to be better.
“You always have someone who’s on your case -- like, ‘get your head out of your butt,” Sophia said, “someone to talk about a game with … and someone who can yell at you if you need it.”
THE SISTERS won’t soon forget March 12, the day the Panthers -- and every other spring collegiate athletics program across the country -- had their season pulled out from under them (after just nine games). Their coach, Tina Phillips, whom they’ve come to love, couldn’t help but break down when delivering the news.
The whole room, they said, “was filled with tears.”
But again, this isn’t an article about an unfortunate situation or the sadness that still lingers over a lost season. This is about the good that has come with being a Division III softball player.
The Fratercangelos’ collegiate careers might not be over. The duo already has to come back for the fall semester to finish up their academic programs. If they can make it work financially -- if they can get some help and the team allows it -- they may be able to take advantage of that extra year of eligibility.
It’s an opportunity they’d jump at if it comes.
“Most definitely,” Betty said, “and I think it’s just because I want the game to end the way I want it to end … not just having it taken away.” Plus, she added, “My father, he’s done a lot for us. Both of our parents have done so much. He’s very bummed. They were upset that they didn’t get to watch our last game either, because nobody knew.”
If, however, they have played their last game -- if their careers came to an end in an 8-3 loss to Baldwin Wallace in Tucson, Arizona, on March 11 -- they can, even begrudgingly, accept that reality.
After all, the positives in their time at Pitt-Bradford far outweigh the negatives.
“Just the friendships, really, because I made a lot of great friends along the way,” said Betty, when asked what she’ll take from the last four years. “Even becoming close with Coach … I’m going to keep in contact with her because she’s always there for us, she’s been checking in, so just those relationships.”
Added Sophia, perhaps reflecting on what allowed the Fratercangelos to reach the collegiate level in the first place, “How to work hard.”