It took weeks of hard work for the East Syracuse-Minoa softball team to rise to the front of the OHSL Freedom division standings.
But it nearly took one afternoon to lose that grip, as the Spartans needed a furious sixth-inning rally last Monday afternoon to beat the Phoenix Firebirds 8-4.
Back on April 26, ESM lost to Phoenix, 4-1, the last time the Spartans had dropped a league contest before its current run.
For a while, the rematch appeared to be running the same course. Untimely walks by Lauren Daly led to a three-run third inning that helped Phoenix erase an early 1-0 deficit.
As it stranded runners on base in nearly every frame, ESM wondered if it could solve Phoenix pitcher Jill Murphy and the tough defense behind her.
That answer came in the bottom of the sixth. Staying more patient at the plate, Chelsea Casciano and Jamie Evans both drew walks, and Andee Fox beat out a dribbler to load the bases with nobody out.
Erin Fox grounded out, scoring a run, but Brittany Gmyr reached base on another infield hit to cut it to 4-3.
Then Lauren Cotter, the Spartans' no. 9 hitter, struck the crucial blow, a deep double to center field that brought the tying and go-ahead runs home. ESM then tacked on three more runs, two of them on Daly's double, to complete a seven-run rally. Daly struck out 14 Phoenix hitters on her way to a complete-game effort.
The win helped keep ESM ahead of Fulton in the OHSL Freedom division standings, with the Spartans and Red Raiders set to meet each other next Wednesday on ESM's home diamond next to Kirkville Road.