The first time the Warwick West Side 12-year-old all-star softball team played East Providence at the state tournament, it fell behind 3-0 before rallying for an 8-5 win.
So when West Side fell behind EP 2-0 in the first inning of the loser’s bracket final on Tuesday, it wasn’t too concerned. It had been there before.
“We didn’t panic,” manager Frank Brown said.
Cool and collected, West Side used three runs in the third, one run in the fourth, dominant pitching from Katrina Kazen and nearly flawless defense down the stretch to come from behind and eliminate EP 4-2.
It was a complete team effort, and it was a testament to a group that wasn’t ready to go home just yet.
“We were a little nervous at first but we started to pick it up,” Kazen said. “We were like, ‘We got this.’”
West Side advanced to the state finals, where it will take on defending champion Cumberland National today at 6 p.m. at North Smithfield’s Pacheco Park.
Cumberland National defeated West Side 14-3 the first time the teams played. For West Side to claim the championship, it will need to beat Cumberland twice, while Cumberland will only have to beat West Side once.
It’s a tall task, but Tuesday’s win at least gives West Side that shot. Last year, West Side was eliminated in the loser’s bracket final.
“They come in as defending champions, undefeated,” Brown said of Cumberland. “The girls know that, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
It had to play a terrific game just to get there. After West Side had a runner thrown out at third trying to steal and stranded a runner at second in the top of the first, Kazen struggled on the mound in the bottom half.
She allowed a leadoff single to Maia Yillarica, another single to Alyssa Guarino, and then walked three consecutive batters to put EP up 2-0.
There was still nobody out, but Kazen didn’t let the game get out of control. First, she induced a groundball to shortstop, where Lexi Brown fielded it cleanly and made a perfect throw to catcher Olivia King at home. Then Kazen struck a batter out and got the third out when an EP runner tried to steal home in-between pitches.
West Side was trailing, but it could have been a lot worse.
“My team picked me up,” Kazen said. “They made me believe.”
After stranding two more runners in the top of the second, and Kazen settling in with a 1-2-3 frame in the bottom half, West Side got going in the third.
A one-out single by King got it started, and she moved to third when Kazen reached on a dropped fly ball. Cassidy Tentoco then stepped in and ripped a single to left-center, scoring both runs and tying the score.
Tentoco took second on a wild pitch, then advanced to third when Karly Evans reached on a dropped third strike. Another wild pitch brought Tentoco in, and West Side led 3-2.
And with her offense picking her up, Kazen did her job on the mound. She followed her quick second inning with a scoreless third inning in which she stranded runners at second and third. The final out of the inning came on a groundout to Taylor Suffoletto, who fielded it at third and threw to first, where Evans made a nice scoop to save a pair of runs.
“Defensively we played great,” Brown said. “We knew that we could play defense. That’s what we live on, is making the routine plays. If you don’t, it comes to hurt you.”
West Side grabbed its fourth run in the fourth when an infield single by Kazen plated Kara Quinn, who was running for Kaylyn Ciesielski. Ciesielski had walked to begin in the inning.
Then West Side flashed more of that defense. Kazen struck out the first two batters in the fourth, but the third hit a ball to Lexi Brown in the hole at short. She made the play look easy, getting the runner at first in plenty of time.
In the fifth, the defense rose to the occasion once more. After a leadoff walk to Yillarca, she stole second on the next pitch and King’s throw sailed past the bag into center field. Yillarca got up and tried for third, but Emma Hlavacek – the center fielder – gunned her down for a huge out.
“This was a great game,” Frank Brown said. “For 11 and 12-year-old girls to play this type of game was phenomenal. Both teams gave everything they had on the field.”
Kazen calmly got the next two batters to pop out, retiring the side.
“After the first inning, she got in a groove,” Brown said of Kazen. “It was pretty dominant from there on.”
West Side missed a chance to pad its lead in the top of the sixth when it had a runner on third with no outs but couldn’t get her home, and then EP made its final push in the bottom half.
Taylor Babcock flew out to Tentoco in center to start the frame, but Raevyn Watson reached on an infield single, as did Andrea Braga. Kazen hit the next batter, Amayer Dacier, loading the bases with one out.
Kazen knew she needed to throw strikes.
“Oh my God, don’t walk the next batter,” she said of what she was thinking.
There were no walks. She struck out Jacque Reynolds on four pitches and then got Ashleigh Wyroster to hit a groundball to Brown, who again fielded it and made the throw to first to end the game.
“I had every bit of confidence in the girls,” Frank Brown said. “You know why? Because they all want to make the last out, they all want to be in the big play. That’s something you can’t teach.”
Next up is Cumberland. If West Side can win on Thursday, it will set up a winner-take-all championship game on Friday, to be played at 6 p.m. at Pacheco Park.
“I think we just need to make the routine plays,” Brown said. “We need to make the plays defensively, something we didn’t do last game against them. And, swing the bats.”