After steamrolling their opponents in the District 3 tournament, the Warwick West Side 12-year-old softball all-stars knew they were in for a whole new set of challenges as they headed to North Smithfield for the state tournament.
They handled the first one, but will have to battle through a few more if they want to bring home the top prize.
After an 8-5 comeback victory over East Providence in the tournament opener on Saturday, West Side struggled in the field and lost 14-3 to defending champion Cumberland National in Sunday’s winner’s bracket final.
West Side will now have a rematch with East Providence in an elimination game on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
“We’re keeping our heads up,” said manager Frank Brown. “As expected, it’s a lot tougher competition at the state level. I had the girls look at the scoreboard for five seconds after we lost. Then they cleared the scoreboard and I said, ‘Look at it now. That’s where we start Tuesday.’”
West Side came into the weekend with high expectations, having outscored its district opponents 62-0. But as was the case last year, when West Side went 1-2 at the state tournament, it’s a different level when champions from the other districts arrive on the scene.
West Side found that out quickly on Saturday. They couldn’t get their offense in gear, fell behind early and continued to trail into their last at-bats.
But they made them count.
In the top of the sixth, West Side scored five runs to turn the game completely around. Karly Evans and Taylor Suffoletto worked walks to start it, and Lexi Brown and Emma Hlavacek put down key bunts to keep the rally going.
“We kept hanging in there,” Brown said. “The girls battled back.”
When the dust settled, the West Side stars were in front. They held on in the bottom of the sixth for the 8-5 victory and a spot in the winner’s bracket final.
“We felt pretty good,” Brown said. “It was good for the girls to face some adversity. They never quit. They saw the competition and saw what it took to compete.”
The victory moved West Side into a match-up with Cumberland National, who dominated last year’s 12-year-old state tournament and came into this one without a loss.
“They’re the defending champs,” Brown said. “We knew we had our hands full. They always have good pitching and they can swing the bats. We felt confident if we could make the plays, we could be right there with them.”
Unfortunately for West Side, that didn’t happen.
After chasing Cumberland’s starting pitcher with a burst of offense in the second inning, the West Side stars let the game get away from them. Seven errors – several of which came with two outs – led to eight Cumberland runs.
The game was quickly blown open, despite a decent day with the bats and solid pitching from Kaylyn Ciesielski.
“We just shot ourselves in the foot,” Brown said. “When you play a good team, you can’t help them like that. If we had made the plays, we would have been in the game.”
Brown is confident that West Side can compete with Cumberland if it gets another shot. But first on the docket is the rematch with East Providence. The winner of Tuesday’s game would have to beat Cumberland twice to capture the title.
“We’ve left it in the past,” Brown said. “I feel if we get another shot at Cumberland, we can play with them. But we’re focused on Tuesday night. We’re not going to look past anybody.”
Cumberland National beat Elmwood 12-1 in its opener. East Providence then stayed alive and bounced Elmwood with a 12-2 victory on Sunday.
The championship is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. If necessary, a winner-take-all title game would be played Friday at 6 p.m. All games are at Pacheco Park in North Smithfield.