Playing for a district berth
Last-inning rally lifts Girard over Struthers
GIRARD — The last outs are the toughest ones to get.
That rang true Thursday in a Division II sectional bracket final, as host Girard scored four times in the seventh inning to beat Struthers 5-4.
The 17th-seeded Wildcats were left standing on the diamond and wondering what had hit them while the ninth-seeded Indians were celebrating and mobbing senior Sophie Griffith, who capped the rally by scoring the winning run on a wild pitch.
“I’ve never been involved with a better comeback than this one — at least in the postseason,” Girard coach Charlie Mazzella said. “We tried to play some small ball earlier, but it wasn’t working. Their pitcher (Nicolina Pezzone) is very good and we were hoping to put the ball in play more often to make them make plays. We finally were able to do it there in the end. But she pitched a heckuva game.”
The Indians (16-7) will play top-seeded Marlington in a district semifinal Tuesday at Hubbard.
The Wildcats, 10-15, scored twice in the first inning and added what appeared to be insurance runs in the fifth when pinch-runner Morgan Minno scored on a two-out wild pitch and in the seventh when senior catcher Mary Bayus ripped a solo home run to left field.
“This is really tough on all of us because we’ve got five seniors and three, sometimes four, of them are starters, and for it to end like this …,” coach Caitlin Barbour said. “We started the season like 2-8 and we’ve played much better since.
“They beat us both times in league play (Northeast-8), but one of those was 4-3 and we had one bad inning in that game, too. For it to happen again, especially in the tournament, it’s just tough on these girls.”
Entering the bottom of the seventh, Pezzone, who finished with 11 strikeouts and two walks, had retired 11 consecutive batters following a one-out error in the third inning. She was facing the bottom one-third of the Girard lineup in the seventh.
But McKayla Durr worked hard to draw a leadoff walk. With one out and Durr on third, left-handed slap hitter Milina Serrano beat out a grounder between shortstop and third base for an RBI-single. Following a wild pitch, leadoff batter Dede Seyhan bunted. The ball was picked up and the throw to first base was rushed and overthrown, as Serranno scored.
“I told our coaches and our girls to make their defense make plays and don’t swing at bad pitches,” Mazzella said. “We had swung at too many ball-4s and ball-5s the whole game. I told the coaches that we were going to do anything we can to get Sophie up again. She’s our No. 2-hitter, so we needed to at least get two girls on base. She’s our go-to player.
“Now, we had her up with one out and the tying run on second and we knew we were in good shape. She delivered as usual.”
After the small-ball began the uprising, Griffith ripped a single to center field to score Seyhan. Griffith took second on the throw home, which got away from the catcher, Bayus, and she raced to third base.
Two pitches later, Griffith scampered home after a pitch from Pezzone bounced away from Bayus.
“As soon as McKayla got the walk, I knew we’d have the chance,” Griffith said. “That gave us the little spark we needed and everyone did their job from there. It wasn’t one big hit; it was everyone coming through in the clutch. This is a big win and we just knew we could do this.
“I wanted one last shot at it because I love being in those tough situations. I wanted this so bad. I am confident I’ll get the job done. You have to have faith in yourself and in your teammates, and I do.”
If there was any disappointment for Griffith, it was that she didn’t get a bucket of water poured over her.
“It’s funny because you always see that on TV and this was the time to do it and my teammates didn’t come through with that,” Griffith laughed. “But otherwise, it’s a perfect ending that we’ll remember for a long time.”
Girard’s only run before the rally came in the second when Griffith doubled and Kaitlyn Culver singled.
Sophomore pitcher Emily Rosace struck out nine and allowed five hits and three walks.