Fredonia does it again

Lady ‘Billies beat Dunkirk, 7-5, in softball semifinal

OBSERVER Photo by Lisa Monacelli Dunkirk’s Emilee Hanlon fields a ground ball at short during Monday’s semifinal softball game against Fredonia.

With so much hype surrounding Monday’s game between Dunkirk and Fredonia, there is always a chance for a letdown in a game of that magnitude.

That certainly was not the case this time.

Fredonia came away with a 7-5 win over Dunkirk to claim a spot in the Class B1 high school softball championship game, in the final chapter of the Dunkirk-Fredonia rivalry in 2018, Monday at SUNY Fredonia.

“It was a great rivalry game,” said Dunkirk coach Michelle Gilmour. “This is exactly how I wanted the game to go down. Obviously I wanted to come out on top, but I felt like the girls really stepped up and it was two really good teams playing softball. I couldn’t have asked for a better game or opportunity for the girls.”

Dunkirk (13-6, 3-seed) could not have started off any better, as leadoff hitter Emilee Hanlon hit the first pitch of the game from Fredonia pitcher Maddy Marsh out to dead center field for a home run. Dunkirk got a base hit from Kaitlyn Davis in the next at-bat, and she later scored on an RBI double from Kymi Nance to give the Lady Marauders a 2-0 lead after the top of the first inning.

OBSERVER Photo by Lisa Monacelli Fredonia pitcher Maddy Marsh delivers a pitch in Monday’s game against Dunkirk in the Class B1 softball semifinals.

“With Hanlon leading off with a home run and Dunkirk adding another run in the first, I wasn’t sure how we’d react,” said Fredonia coach Jesse Beers. “But down the stretch, we’ve shown an incredible amount of resilience. These girls can swing the bats.”

Fredonia (13-3, 2-seed) came back with an answer immediately, as Kazlin Beers led off with a double. She advanced to third base on a strikeout in the dirt, then scored on a wild pitch for Fredonia’s first run. Grace Mroczka followed up with a walk, which brought Sydney Bigelow to the plate. The Fredonia clean-up hitter drilled a ball to deep center field for a two-run home run to give the Lady ‘Billies a 3-2 lead.

“I knew it was gone right off the bat,” said Coach Beers.

Dunkirk came right back to tie the game at three, after Olivia Yerico-Piazza led off the second inning with a double and scored on an RBI single by Ashley Gotowka. Hanlon would follow later in the inning with a double to shallow left field in which she beat the throw to second base. Hanlon came around to score on a Davis single — her second hit in as many innings — to give Dunkirk the lead once again.

Each team’s next chance at the plate went quickly, as the batters from each side were retired in order.

In the bottom of the third inning, Fredonia tied the score at 4-4, after a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded by Grace Pucciarelli brought home Kazlin Beers. Fredonia would leave two runners on base, however, finishing the inning deadlocked at four.

The Lady Marauders took the lead once again in the top of the fifth, on a home run to center field by Jessica Beehler to lead off the inning. The towering fly ball carried out over the center field wall for the game’s third home run to the same part of the field.

The 5-4 Dunkirk lead did not last long, as Fredonia answered in the bottom half of the inning with another sacrifice fly from Pucciarelli, scoring Mroczka to even the score at 5-5 after five innings.

“We were optimistic that we were going to come out of it really quick,” said Gilmour. “I thought we were in a good spot.”

Dunkirk followed by going down in order in the top of the sixth. After the top half of the inning, Coach Beers told his team, “Two runs and three outs is going to get it done.”

He was right.

Hannah Gullo led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a bunt single by design. Maggie Mignoli followed with a bunt single of her own, as the throw to first forced Davis’ glove into the baseline and the ball was knocked loose by Mignoli. Gullo advanced to third on the play with no one out.

“They were both bunts by design. We spent a good hour or so the other day working on bunts at practice. We felt like we could take advantage of that. … I told (Hannah Gullo) ‘I’m not even going to give you a sign. Just show late and get it down the baseline’, which is exactly what she did,” said Coach Beers. “Once she got on, we were just trying to move her over and get to the top of the lineup. Kazlin (Beers) was 3-3 before that at-bat. … I liked my chances.”

Kazlin Beers came through with a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Hannah Gullo on a play at the plate for the go-ahead run. Mignoli scored on the next at-bat — a groundout by Cassie Essek — to give Fredonia an insurance run heading to the final inning.

Gotowka led off the seventh inning for Dunkirk by drawing a 3-1 count on Marsh, but eventually grounded out. Beehler flew out, setting the stage for Hanlon one final time. The Dunkirk star grounded out to end it, sending Fredonia to the Class B1 title game.

“Ashley Gotowka going up to bat, she’s a freshman … and it all came down to her,” said Gilmour. “We’re looking at it as a learning opportunity and a way to continue to improve and grow for next year.”

Coach Beers acknowledged, “Gotowka’s at-bat was a pivotal at-bat.” Beers went on to say, “If she reaches on a walk, that can really set things in motion. All of a sudden, then you have the top of their order coming up. But Maddy (Marsh) came through.”

Dunkirk loses only two seniors from this year’s team, Alexis Tofil and Hanlon. Though the loss of the Tennessee-bound senior star will be felt next year, eight of the nine starters on Dunkirk’s team will be back next year. There is clearly a lot to look forward to for the Lady Marauders.

But this is Fredonia’s year.

“This is what sectional semifinals should be like,” said Coach Beers.

Fredonia now moves on to face Olean for the B1 title, at Williamsville North High School on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

NOTES: Fredonia was originally scheduled to host the semifinal playoff matchup, with the higher seed over Dunkirk, but with Fredonia’s field unplayable because of the recent weather, the site of the game was up in the air until just a few hours before the game.

“I got a call at about 11:30 a.m. from our Athletic Director, Greg Lauer, saying that our field was not going to be playable,” said Beers. “Section rules said we could either move it to a neutral site or it would go over to the other team. I didn’t want to go to Dunkirk, for obvious reasons. I wanted to keep the home field advantage. Thankfully, my wife is an administrator here. I called her, she pulled a few strings for us, and they were able to come over here and (get the field ready). They did a phenomenal job getting it ready for us. I really appreciate it.”

Maddy Marsh threw a complete game for Fredonia to earn the win. Dunkirk’s starter, Monica Pokoj, also threw a complete game.

Twitter: @bradencarmen