Jun 03, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Everyone on the Solvay softball team watched as Adirondack’s Suzanne Jokajtys raced home with the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning, signaling the end of Saturday’s Section III Class B final at Gillette Field, and the end of a magical post-season run by the Bearcats.
Only it wasn’t the end.
Not even a half-hour later, it was the Bearcats’ turn to celebrate — and this one counted. Solvay’s 4-2, eight-inning victory gave the team its first-ever overall Class B title, all pulled off by a team with just one senior on its roster.
“It’s just a dream come true,” said head coach Phil Merrill. “These girls played their hearts out. Who ever thought we would get here?”
A little fortune didn’t hurt, either, and two bits of fortune played a big part in the Bearcats’ rally past the B-2 champion Wildcats.
Down 2-1 going into the top of the seventh inning, Solvay’s lone senior, Stacy Kaltenbach, ripped a one-out triple to the wall. Kylie Scoville then fought off several 0-2 pitches from Halie Tyler before lifting a fly ball not deep enough to bring Kaltenbach home — but it was dropped, and when Kaltenbach scored, it was a 2-2 tie.
Now Gabrielle Nurod, the talented Solvay freshman on the mound, tried to force extra frames. Adirondack’s Amanda Pratt doubled and Ashley Ziegler singled, brining Tyler to the plate. Tyler had doubled home a run off Nurod two innings earlier.
Tyler came through again, ripping a shot fair just inside the left-field line. Jokajtys, pinch-running for Pratt, raced around third and, as her teammates spilled out of the dugout, jumped across home plate.
But Jokajtys didn’t touch home plate, a fact pointed out by one of the Solvay coaches.
“I didn’t notice it,” said Kaltenbach, the Bearcats’ catcher.
“Instantly, the Wildcats’ celebration ground to a halt, and Solvay players stood on the diamond, as coaches, umpires and other officials tried to figure things out.
In the end, they ruled that, since Jokajtys didn’t touch the plate, she was out, and that all other runners had to return to base. Somehow, after this long delay, Nurod went back to the mound and struck out Amanda Myers to send the game to an eighth inning.
“After that, we knew we weren’t going to go down without a fight,” said Kaltenbach.
Given new life, Solvay didn’t waste it. In the top of the eighth, Kelly Kaltenbach led off with a double and Chelsey Chavez-Egan singled. Shannon Slowik lofted a sacrifice fly that scored one run, and Stacy Kaltenbach’s single allowed Chavez-Egan to score.
With a two-run advantage, Nurod allowed the tying runs to get on base in the bottom of the eighth, but still closed it out. Stacy Kaltenbach said that, every inning, she would go out to the mound and tell a joke to loosen up Nurod, who went the distance.
“She (Nurod) didn’t have her best stuff today,” said Merrill. “But she’s a bulldog and doesn’t let anything despite her.”
Young and confident, Solvay gladly allowed others to bask in the spotlight for much of the 2007 regular season while working through its own bouts of inconsistency.
Then, when the post-season whistle blew, the Bearcats proved to be more adept at survival than its older or more accomplished foes.
Solvay dismissed Jordan-Elbridge in the quarterfinals, then took full advantage of top seed Westhill’s shocking early departure to knock off two different sets of Lakers, starting with its 1-0 nail-biter over Skaneateles in the semifinals on May 26.
Four days later, in the B-1 title game at Gillette Field, the Bearcats used more late heroics to rally past Cazenovia 2-1 for its first sectional title in four years.
After 14 shutout innings in the playoffs, Nurod finally allowed a run in the first inning, but that was all she would give up against a Lakers lineup she was quite familiar with through two regular-season games in the OHSL Liberty division.
Of course, the Bearcats were having its own problems solving Cazenovia ace Katie McLean, going through six innings without breaking through against her.
When it comes to the seventh inning, though, Solvay has it mastered, showing remarkable poise and clutch ability. Chavez-Egan singled, then moved around the bases and scored to tie it, 1-1.
So it remained until the top of the eighth. Stacy Kaltenach singled, her second hit of the night, and was moved to third base with one out.
Chavez-Egan returned and hit a grounder to the Cazenovia shortstop. Kaltenbach hesitated for a moment, then took off for home, sliding under the tag to produce the go-ahead run.
Needing three outs to move forward, Nurod got them, and the girls that, when younger, saw Solvay win a sectional crown in 2003 now had their own title to celebrate — and would not stop there, either.
The Bearcats will play Tuesday night in the Class B regional final against the Section IV champions at Gillette, hoping to advance to this weekend’s state final four at the BAGSAI complex near Binghamton.
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