After losing on Saturday for the first time all summer, the Warwick West Side 9/10-year-old all-star softball team went back to the drawing board on Sunday.
A scheduled 90-minute practice ended up going 90 minutes longer than planned. Later that night, the majority of the team met up – voluntarily – at batting cages, and spent a few more hours working on their form.
And when Monday came around, West Side was ready. Thanks to three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, West Side rallied to defeat Cranston National Budlong – the same team that had beaten West Side on Saturday – 5-3 to claim the state championship at East Providence’s Forbes Field.
“We’ve been very fortunate at West Side, to bring home a few district titles, but this team was put together with a purpose – to bring home a state championship,” West Side manager Carlos Rodas said.
West Side advances to the Eastern Region Invitational, which will be held in Old Forge, Pa., from Aug. 2-10.
But it certainly wasn’t easy, not against a determined CNB opponent that was hungry for the title itself.
West Side won the first two games it played in the state tournament, while CNB lost early to Lincoln, but CNB rallied to come out of the loser’s bracket and match up with West Side in the finals. Needing two victories to claim a state championship, CNB knocked off West Side 6-2 on Saturday to set up Monday’s championship showdown.
“We were humbled a little bit that day,” Rodas said of Saturday’s game.
When the teams took the field again, CNB was still riding high off of Saturday’s win, and it carried the momentum early on. West Side had a runner thrown out trying to score in the first and second innings, and in the third, CNB struck first.
Facing West Side starter Emily Carter, CNB got a triple by Katy Lewandowski that knocked in two runs. A groundout by Ava Brandow brought home another, making it 3-0.
On the mound, CNB was cruising as well, with Sophia DiPippo allowing just three hits and one run through three innings of work. That run came on an RBI groundout by Madi Damato in the third.
But in the fourth, with two outs and West Side’s Dyonna Rodas on third, Bailey Arruda lined a ball back at DiPippo. The ball hit off her chest, and she fell to the ground. A run scored and play was stopped, but it was clear that DiPippo was hurt.
After a meeting on the mound, she was removed from the game – even though she wanted to stay in – and Brandow was brought in to pitch. She retired the next batter, keeping CNB ahead 3-2, but losing DiPippo was a crushing blow.
“That was definitely the turning point in the game for us,” CNB manager Tom Lewandowski said. “Ava came out there and put pressure on them to try to help the team out. But the first thing on our minds was the safety, and I think we did the right thing getting her out.”
In the fifth, CNB tried for some insurance runs, but Katy Lewandowski was called out on the basepaths after she left first early during a pitch. The next two batters went down in order against Carter – who pitched the entire game – setting the stage for West Side’s rally in the bottom half of the fifth.
Ashleigh Kidd was hit with a pitch to start the frame, and Bryanna Rastella drew a walk. After Brandow struck out two batters and threw a passed ball, advancing the tying and go-ahead runs to scoring position, she walked Rodas to load the bases. On a 3-2 count, she then walked Kelsey Burr to bring home the tying run.
Another wild pitch on the second pitch of the next at-bat brought home Rastella for the go-ahead run, and one more wild pitch scored Rodas to give West Side some insurance with a 5-3 lead.
CNB went from leading and closing in on a victory to being down to its final three outs.
“They were working every day,” Carlos Rodas said. “All the credit goes to them. Softball wasn’t just one of their extracurricular activities, they were driven with a purpose. I’m just proud to be a part of it.”
With one out in the sixth, Carter hit CNB’s Emily Rose with a pitch, and with two outs she walked Sydney Casale to put the tying runs on base. But a final strikeout – Carter’s 14th of the game and the fifth straight out by strikeout – sealed the game and the title for West Side.
Carter allowed only one hit on the day and didn’t allow a run after the third inning.
“Emily Carter, we put it on her shoulders and we rode her,” Rodas said. The greatest thing about her is it’s never too big for her.”
West Side celebrated a state championship, and got to extend its magical summer a little bit longer.
It’s hoping the magic continues too, at regionals.
“I do know that the competition level is going to step it up another notch,” Rodas said. “But at the 9/10 level, I don’t care if they’re from Texas or North Carolina, I have a hard time believing that there’s girls that take it to work every single day more than these 13 girls.”