Jun 04, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Here, as far as the Liverpool softball team was concerned, was the dream scenario.
The Warriors, out to reclaim the Section III Class AA championship, could do so in the most satisfying way possible — at the expense of the defending state champions that just happened to be its biggest rival, on that rival’s home turf.
Thanks to a couple of big-time gambles, that dream came true, as Liverpool stunned Cicero-North Syracuse 3-2 to earn the AA title on a steamy Saturday afternoon at the Gillette Road complex.
At that same facility 19 days earlier, CNS had beaten the Warriors 9-3, pounding Liverpool’s no. 1 pitcher, Amanda Clark, for five first-inning runs and never looking back.
Remembering that, head coach Nick Spataro decided that Clark, who had bounced back to pitch extremely well in two AA playoffs wins over West Genesee and Oswego, would sit out the final, in favor of sophomore left-hander Erin Squairs.
Though she had plenty of mound experience (59 innings in 2007), Squairs had never pitched in a game so important, against a lineup as imposing as the one CNS possesses. Yet Spataro gambled that the element of surprise might help his team — and throw the Northtstars off its course a bit.
Sure enough, in the bottom of the first inning, Liverpool ran into possible trouble when Brittney Lindley singled and Squairs hit the dangerous Jessica Phillips with a pitch.
But once Squairs got out of that jam with a popout and flyout, she seemed to relax, and breezed through the next three innings without much trouble.
Meanwhile, the Warriors got to CNS lefty Erica Gigliotti in the top of the fourth. Sarah Choroser hit a one-out double and reached third base on a passed ball.
After Kayla Howard walked, Anna Panzetta singled to score Choroser, and Sharon Dennis followed with a double to the wall, scoring Howard and Panzetta and making it 3-0.
Now Squairs had a lead to protect. In the bottom of the fifth, a throwing error put Stephanie Mix on base, and Phlilips singled her home. Pinch-runner Allee Emmi stole both second and third, then raced home on a wild pick-off throw, making it 3-2.
Liverpool avoided further damage and stayed in front, but despite chances in the sixth and seventh innings to score, it could not give Squairs any insurance runs.
So it came down to the bottom of the seventh. Squairs got the first two outs, but Lindley kept the game alive by doubling down the right-field line.
That brought up Phillips. Everyone on both sides knew that Phillips could win the sectional title with one swing of her powerful bat — something she had done a year earlier in a 1-0, extra-inning victory over Rome Free Academy in the AA final.
Spataro knew it, too, and ordered Squairs to walk Phillips, even though she represented the winning run and such a move flew in the face of conventional wisdom that says a team never should intentionally walk the possible winning run.
Maggie McDonald was up next, and she was just as capable of producing a hit that could tie or win the game for the Northstars. McDonald turned on a Squairs pitch and hit it hard to left field — but it hung up, and Dennis caught it to end the game and give the Warriors the championship.
It was impressive enough that Liverpool reached the title game. In last Wednesday’s AA semifinal at Hopkins Road Park, the Warriors toppled no. 2 seed Oswego in a tense 1-0 duel.
Amid the summer-like heat, the two pitchers on the mound — Clark for Liverpool, Abby Martin for Oswego — would be in charge for much of the game.
For six innings, neither ace blinked. Clark, who threw a no-hitter in Liverpool’s quarterfinal win over West Genesee on May 26, was just as stingy here, but Martin was even better, holding the Warriors to just one hit until the top of the seventh.
Liverpool stayed patient, though, and in that decisive seventh inning, broke through. Alex Czachowski pounded a Martin pitch to the wall for a double, and Panzetta followed up with a single that scored Czachowski.
Clark held to that margin in the bottom of the seventh, sending Liverpool back to the finals — and to another shot at CNS that paid off in the team’s second sectional title in three years.
Without much time to celebrate, Liverpool comes back to Gillette Tuesday to face five-time Section II champion Shenendehowa in the AA regional final, with the winner bound for the state final four this weekend at the BAGSAI complex near Binghamton.