Only two girls had reached base through the first five innings for the Warwick West Side 12-year-old all-star softball team on Friday against Westerly. With the team trailing 5-0, it certainly didn’t seem like there was much reason for optimism.
But somehow, West Side still believed.
“You could see it in the dugout,” manager Billy King said. “They’re doing the rally dance and singing. They kept upbeat and positive. And we can’t say enough about our fans – they were going crazy. That gave our girls that extra motivation, that extra boost.”
And that set the stage for a stunning finish.
Playing in the District 3 finals, West Side scored five times in the bottom of the sixth inning to force extras, and then watched Kristiana Altieri trot home with the winning run on a wild pitch in the seventh as the team captured the district title with a 6-5 win.
It was West Side’s third win in as many games in the tournament, and it was made extra special not just because it was the district-clinching victory, but because of how the team responded when it looked like a loss was inevitable.
“It was an unbelievable game,” King said. “The girls played great, and they had the heart of a champion. I don’t believe they ever thought they were going to lose, even being down 5-0 in the sixth.”
Westerly starter Jenna Bowdy befuddled West Side through the first five innings, allowing just a single to Olivia King in the fourth inning and one to Karly Evans in the fifth.
Meanwhile, West Side starter Katrina Kazen kept the game scoreless by getting through three innings unscathed, but she allowed two runs in the fourth and then was driven from the game in the fifth when Westerly loaded the bases with nobody out. Gabby Scalzo came on in relief, but two walks, a passed ball and a hit batter extended the deficit to 5-0.
It looked like West Side was going to have to take the loss and travel to Westerly for a deciding game on Sunday.
With three outs left, though, West Side wasn’t dead yet.
Emma Hlavacek led off the bottom of the sixth with a single, and Altieri followed that up with a walk. King stepped in next, and she laced a triple to left field, scoring West Side’s first two runs and firing up an already loud crowd.
“Going up to the sixth inning, I think we only had two hits the whole game, and only two baserunners,” Billy King said. “Olivia’s hit, the triple, it’s a big hit, scores two runs. Now they’re starting to believe more. It got our fans energized, it got the girls energized. It was really the catalyst.”
That was the end of the day for Bowdy, as she was pulled for Olivia Riley. But Riley struggled, walking Scalzo on four pitches and then walking Jeriann Evans to load the bases. Kazen followed that up with a single to drive in two more runs, making the score 5-4 with nobody out.
On the first pitch to Selin Ciesielski, Kazen stole second, putting the winning run in scoring position.
Riley, however, bore down. She struck out Ciesielski, struck out Karly Evans, and then got ahead 0-2 on Taryn Stringfellow. Suddenly, West Side was down to its final strike.
Riley’s third pitch to Stringfellow got away from catcher Kaylee Sullivan, though, and Jeriann Evans came home with the tying run.
“I was very nervous,” King said. “When we got to that point, I told Jeriann Evans – who’s one of our team captains – ‘You’re on third, I trust your judgment. If that ball gets by, you’re going. Don’t even hesitate, you know what you’re doing.’ And she was able to score.”
Stringfellow eventually grounded out, but West Side had done enough to force extras, and it had all the momentum.
In the seventh, Scalzo hit Liz Brissette with one out, but she worked around it to get out of the inning unscathed.
“Gabby did great,” King said. “She was a little cold in the first inning, and coming in with the bases loaded and no outs is a very tough situation to put her in. She got us out of that inning, and then she blanked them the rest of the way.”
In the bottom half, Westerly got the first out before Altieri laid down a bunt in front of the plate that Sullivan fielded cleanly. But Sullivan’s throw to first was high, and Altieri advanced all the way to third base on the error.
Olivia King came up, and Riley’s first pitch to her was inside. It rolled to the backstop, and Altieri sprinted home, setting off a wild celebration.
“Kristiana laid down a perfect bunt in the seventh, and we forced them to make a play,” King said. “Fortunately they didn’t, and then the next pitch we were able to score the winning run.”
West Side soaked in the moment, as the team took a victory lap around the field with its championship banner and fireworks were shot off behind the center field fence.
“We had a goal – to win the districts,” King said. “That was our ultimate goal, at least make it to states. We did that.”
And now it’s on to that state tournament, which will begin Sunday, July 8 at Elmwood Little League in Providence. It will follow a double elimination format and will feature the four district winners.
“Four teams are in it, and we’re one of them,” King said.