Lady Hillbillies on wrong end of pitchers’ duel

OBSERVER Photo by Braden Carmen Fredonia’s Maggie Mignoli bats against Olean during Thursday’s high school softball playoff game in Williamsville.

WILLIAMSVILLE — After Monday’s Dunkirk-Fredonia rivalry game in the Section VI Class B1 softball semifinals, Fredonia coach Jesse Beers said that it was a shame that someone had to lose such a great game.

Thursday, Fredonia was on the other end of that same scenario in the B1 title game against Olean.

The Fredonia Lady ‘Billies lost to the Olean Lady Huskies, 2-1, in the Class B1 high school softball sectional final at Williamsville North High School on Thursday evening.

“I knew it was going to be a tight game where runs were going to be at a premium,” said Coach Beers. “… Sometimes you’ve just got to tip your cap.”

Fredonia (13-4, No. 2 seed) sent freshman Maddy Marsh out to the circle again on Thursday, as was the case in each of the biggest games of the year for the Lady ‘Billies. Going back to the league title game against Chautauqua Lake — and even further back than that — Marsh has been in the circle for every key moment of the postseason run for Fredonia. Thursday might have been her best performance of all, yet the Lady ‘Billies were not able to come away with the win.

Matched up against Olean’s ace, senior St. Bonaventure commit Alyssa Ramarge, Marsh proved she belonged on the same stage. Marsh and Ramarge each threw four shutout innings to begin the game. Through four innings, Ramarge only allowed one hit, no walks, and one other runner to reach base on an error, while Marsh allowed four hits, no walks, and left all four runners on base.

Fredonia went down in order in the fifth, and Marsh got the first two batters of the bottom of the frame, as well. With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Olean (14-7, 1-seed) finally broke through.

A single followed by a stolen base, and then a walk, put runners on first and second for Mariah Moses. The Olean senior hit a single into left field to score the first run of the game, but was thrown out at second base to end the inning.

Fredonia was tasked to come from behind for the first time on Thursday in the top of the sixth inning. The Lady ‘Billies did not waste any time.

Maggie Mignoli led off the inning with a single, followed by a single from Kazlin Beers. Mignoli advanced to third on the play, while Beers advanced to second base on the throw. After only reaching base twice on just one hit in the first five innings, all of a sudden the Lady ‘Billies had two runners in scoring position with no one out.

Cassie Essek attempted a squeeze bunt in the next at-bat, but Ramarge fielded the ball and flipped it home to retire Mignoli at the plate. Next, with runners on the corners and one out, Grace Mroczka came to bat. One of the most consistent hitters all season long, Mroczka delivered once again for Fredonia. Mroczka hit a ground ball through the left side of the infield for a base hit to score the first run of the game for the Lady ‘Billies.

Sydney Bigelow followed with a pop-out, then Grace Pucciarelli worked the count full before drawing a walk to load the bases with two outs for Kelly Gullo. After a long at-bat in which the count went full once again, Kelly Gullo struck out to leave the bases loaded.

With the game tied once again, Olean followed in the bottom of the sixth with a one-out triple to deep right-center field. The next batter hit a ground ball to second base in a drawn in infield, but Bigelow thought twice about throwing home and instead got the sure out at first base. Olean took a 2-1 lead on the play.

“We pulled the infield in. The ball was a little bit up the line. If it was a little bit more at my second baseman, I think we have a shot at the plate,” said Coach Beers.

Fredonia had one last chance in the seventh inning, needing to score a run to tie the game. With one out, Hannah Gullo reached on an infield single, putting the tying run on base. Mignoli followed with a softly-hit pop-out on the infield, leaving Kazlin Beers as Fredonia’s last hope. The leadoff hitter for Fredonia, with two hits in the game already, finished a step shy of beating out a throw to first. The bang-bang play at first base recorded the final out of the game, sending Olean sprinting to the circle in celebration.

“They got one more clutch hit than we did. That was really the difference in the game,” Coach Beers said.

Ramarge finished as the game’s winning pitcher, allowing five hits and one walk, while striking out five. The one run she allowed, along with three of the five hits by Fredonia came in the sixth inning.

“We only had five hits, but we were putting the ball in play,” Coach Beers said. “(Ramarge is) a top-tier pitcher, clearly. She’s going to St. Bonaventure for a reason.”

Marsh was the losing pitcher, despite only allowing two runs, one walk and seven hits, while striking out a pair. For much of the game, both pitchers were evenly matched on the scoreboard.

“Maddy Marsh, what can you say? (She) pitched her heart out today. She’s been getting it done for us all year. What poise to come in a sectional final game and throw a game like that,” said Coach Beers. “I’m glad she’s going to be on my team the next three years.”

Fredonia did not hurt themselves with mistakes on Thursday. In addition to only one walk in the game, the Lady ‘Billies did not commit an error defensively.

“We played flawless defense,” said Coach Beers. “This might have been the first time all year that we didn’t make an error somewhere.”

Fredonia’s season comes to an end, despite playing what Coach Beers categorized as one of the best games his team has played all season.

“I really can’t ask for more, for a better effort than I got today,” said Coach Beers. “There’s been games, even when we’ve won, that I’ve gone home and I’ve been upset. … Honestly, I’m going to rest well tonight. I thought our kids played their hearts out.”

Thursday was the final game in the careers of Hannah Gullo, Cassie Essek and Grace Pucciarelli. The rest of Fredonia — along with Coach Beers, who finished his first year as the primary head coach of the Lady ‘Billies — expect to be back next year, and back in a similar position in the postseason, as well.

“First year as the head varsity coach, it was a heck of a ride,” said Coach Beers. “I really enjoyed it. These kids have been such a tight-knit group of kids all year long. There’s been no drama. They genuinely care for each other. … I’m looking forward to more. Hopefully we will be back.”

Twitter: @bradencarmen