By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
JEFFERSON TOWNSHIP —
It was an atmosphere that resembled a college softball tournament game more than the regular-season high school affair that it was. And the Warriors and Falcons did everything they could to live up to the environment surrounding Lehotsky Field at the Havens Complex.
With crowd-pleasing defensive gems and fine pitching on both sides, daring baserunning and a timely hit gave the Falcons a thrilling 1-0 victory that ended under the lights.
“I’m glad (Jefferson coach Don McCormack) came up with the idea,” Edgewood coach Steve Cunha said. “It gave the kids something different. Ever since they heard about it, they were looking forward to it. It was fun. It’s a nice complex. There were a lot fans. The kids from both schools were excited.
“As a coach, you worry about how getting the kids out of their environment — we usually play at 4:30 — will affect their play. I think, actually, it raised their level of play. It was fun.”
“It felt like a travel-ball game,” McCormack said. “There was a little excitement in the air. It was a very, very nice crowd at a facility equal to the one we have for ourselves, which is tremendous.
“The fact the kids know each other well — they play together in the summer — the coaches know each other well, it’s not an adversarial rivalry. We all want the game to prosper and the kids to play on a great stage. We accomplished that tonight. With the possibility of getting lights at JAGS next year, there’s an opportunity to do this more than once a season.”
Freshmen Sam Hamski and Kaycee Fusco hooked up to give the Falcons (16-4, 6-1 in All-American Conference) their only run.
Hamski led off the home half of the fifth with a single to left-center and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from McKenzie Wilber.
“Since the Conneaut game, I’ve been confident,” Hamski said. “My hitting hasn’t been on key. Hitting off (Conneaut pitcher) Lexi (Zappitelli) gave me confidence. I’m seeing the change-up better and that helped.”
After Edgewood shortstop Gia Saturday went deep into the hole on the left side and rifled a throw across the diamond for the second out, Fusco stepped in the box.
“I was just trying to get a hit,” Fusco said. “I had confidence. I was just trying to hit it and keep my eye on the ball. I’ve been building up a lot of confidence.”
That confidence led to a single to left. Hamski, running hard on contact, ran right through a stop sign from McCormack and tried to score. Edgewood left fielder Mercedes Burns unleashed a throw to the plate that had Hamski out by several feet, but when the throw bounced, it took a Jefferson hop and Hamski scored standing up.
“I just had to be aggressive,” Hamski said. “What I did today was pretty stupid. Coach McCormack told me to stay and I didn’t. If the catcher didn’t drop the ball, I was out by a mile.”
“It was like a bad shot in basketball,” McCormack said. “You’re saying ‘No, no no! Great shot!’ Sam’s head was down, she was digging and by God, she was going to get there. Fortunately for her, and for us, she got there.
“If the catcher was able to field it, she was out. It just took a tough hop. You can’t argue with the result. We’ll take it with a smile and learn from it going forward.”
“It was a great game,” Cunha said. “They made a couple more plays than we did. If we get a couple bunts down, we score some runs.
“It was a bad break on the throw. It beat her by a lot, but it took a bad hop. If it’s a good hop, she’s out and we’re still playing. It’s unfortunate somebody had to lose.”
Jefferson has scored three runs in the last two games and on all three, Hamski has scored as a result of Fusco delivering.
“Sam got a base hit, which is no surprise, she’s been on a tear the last seven or 10 days,” McCormack said. “McKenzie did what she was supposed to and got the bunt down. Kaycee came through and got a clutch single to win the game. That kind of production from the eighth spot in the lineup is dangerous.
“It was great execution on the girls’ part.”
Bailey Beckwith (7-0), leading the area in ERA, allowed just two hits in the shutout.
“I went with what my dad (Bill Beckwith) said. I kept throwing them where they were going to hit them and we could make the play.”
Gabriella Patete (8-6) took the loss in allowing just five hits for the Warriors. She struck out one and walked no one.
“I had to throw a bunch of different pitches,” Patete said. “People are going to get their hits off me, so I wasn’t worried about that, The girls played great defense behind me. I just knew they were going to get me out of innings.”
Despite making four errors, the Falcons’ defense got the job done.
In the third, Amanda Krause made a running catch while stretching as far as she could in the left-center field gap. Alyssa Irons followed with a shoe-string grab on a liner in the hole at shortstop.
The next inning, Fusco came sliding in toward the plate on her knees to catch a bunt. Still on her knees, she turned and just missed doubling off an Edgewood runner.
Edgewood (10-13) also showed some stellar glove work.
“They played their best,” Patete said of the Warriors. “They made me want to be at my best for them.”
“It was a well-played game by both sides,” Cunha said.
In the second, Saturday fielded a ground ball and fired home to prevent a run then catcher Mo Lynch gunned down a runner trying to steal third with one out. Taylor Rowe stabbed a liner in the fourth and threw to first for an inning-ending double play. And Saturday added her play in the sixth.
“I thought Edgewood outplayed us,” McCormack said. “They really did. That’s what they’re coached to do. That’s what they expect to do.”
It’s what great players do on big stages.
“It felt like a tournament game,” McCormack said. “I’d like to thank Jefferson Little League for allowing us to stage this kind of production for softball. The fact they were gracious enough to allow us to use their facility made for a great night for the young people and also for the rest of us. It was great to watch and to be a part of it.”
Ettinger is a freelance from Ashtabula. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.