BRISTOLVILLE - For as long as anyone can remember, defeating Maplewood in any sport has always been up there with eating and drinking as one of life's essentials for the Bristol Panthers.
There appears to be a new rival of the Panthers that elicits almost the same joyous reaction after a win, at least in softball. Bristol's 3-0 win over the Mathews Mustangs on Wednesday set off a reaction that is normally reserved for district championships.
"This is a very big win," Panthers coach Debbie Rowles said. "They beat us the first time. We were their only loss last year - we beat them twice - so this was kind of like a revenge game. The girls played great. They (the Mustangs) are a very tough team."
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Bristol pitcher Ashlyn Slusher, right, and catcher Kylie Stoneman celebrate after the last out was made in the Panthers’ 3-0 victory over Mathews. Slusher tossed a three-hitter in the win.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Bristol’s Amanda McClellan barrels through Mathews’ catcher Hollie Shreves and scores during the third inning on Wednesday.
The teams are now tied at 13-1 in the Northeastern Athletic Conference. Beyond moving into a first-place tie, a win over an opponent that advanced to the Division IV state final last season gives the Panthers confidence that they might be a force in this year's tournament.
"It really encourages us to keep doing well," winning pitcher Ashlyn Slusher said.
Slusher was a pitching and hitting star. The freshman had a perfect game going until two outs in the fifth inning when Jacki Rhine reached safely on a throwing error. Slusher's no-hit bid ended when Tabby Granelly doubled with one out in the sixth inning.
Slusher allowed just three hits in seven innings, striking out 13 and walking one. At the plate she had two hits, including a two-run single in the sixth that gave her some needed insurance.
"For a freshman, she doesn't let anything bother her," Rowles said. "She has faith in her teammates behind her."
Sophomore Cheyenne Eggens started and worked six innings in taking the loss. Eggens gave up five hits, struck out nine and didn't allow a walk.
"Teams are getting better," Mustangs coach Jim Nicula said. "Last year she was averaging 16, 17, 18 (strikeouts). It's nothing against Cheyenne at all. She's a tremendous pitcher and an awesome talent and she has a huge future ahead of her.
"The other teams know she's a power pitcher and they're altering their at-bats. Last year she took some people by surprise a little. She's only going to get better and still carry us."
The Panthers scored an unearned run in the third inning. Amanda McClellan led off with a double. Stephanie Hulick then reached safely on an error that allowed McClellan to score.
Megan Adams led off the sixth with a single for Bristol. Eggens struck out Lindsey Elza before Kylie Stoneman singled to move Adams to third. Maddi Grimes made a diving catch of a line drive by Laurin Elza to temporarily prevent more damage, but Slusher's single scored Adams and Stoneman.
Mathews loaded the bases in the sixth on a walk to Meredith Grimes, Granelly's double and an infield single by Maddie Williams. Slusher escaped trouble by retiring Jessica Marsico on an infield pop and striking out Marisa Odell.
"It didn't bother me," said Slusher of the bases-loaded jam. "I had to pitch my hardest and try my best."
The Mustangs won the earlier game this season, 4-3, in 10 innings. The teams are in different brackets of the district, which means they wouldn't meet until the final. That could very well happen.
"These girls go back," Nicula said. "Ashlyn and Lauren Slusher and the majority of these younger girls have been playing since they were 5 or 6 against each other, and the older ones as well. There are no secrets between us."