The 12-year-olds on the Warwick West Side 11/12 softball all-stars were three-for-three on district championships coming into this summer. Championship number four was the most difficult to get, but West Side found a way.
After beating South Kingstown 15-4 in the winner’s bracket final, West Side hosted the District 3 championship on Monday and found itself in a battle. The same South Kingstown squad bounced back with a gutsy performance, taking advantage of some defensive struggles by West Side and delivering a stunning four-run rally in the top of the sixth inning to go up by two runs.
But West Side came to life in its last at-bat, tying the game on a Taylor Suffoletto two-run single and winning it on Sophia Detroia’s RBI single.
It wasn’t exactly the route West Side planned on taking, but it ended with another championship.
“This is four in a row for our 12-year-olds, and three in a row for our 11-year-olds,” said manager Rick Bigelli. “We’re very proud of that. It got a little hairy there, but we pulled it out.”
The victory moved West Side into the Little League softball state tournament, which will be hosted by Westerly National Little League. West Side will play Saturday at 1 p.m. against the champion from District 4.
In the wake of Monday’s win, the West Side coaching staff was already focusing on what needed to improve after the shaky performance. But there was some celebrating to do, too, thanks to the sixth-inning heroics.
West Side led 7-5 heading into the top of the sixth, but South Kingstown put two runners on thanks to an error and an infield hit. With two outs, Samantha Hutchins delivered a two-run double that tied the game. Faith Hutchins then smacked an RBI triple and scored on an errant throw from the outfield to put South Kingstown up 9-7.
Even if it could finish off the win, South Kingstown would still have to beat West Side one more time, but for the Warwick squad, it was still a shocker of an inning and an unfamiliar spot.
“We told them, ‘They’re trying to take something from us that should be ours,’” Bigelli said. “‘We kept them in the game. Now you’ve got to find out what’s in here. All those practices, all that work in the heat – this is where it pays off.’”
And it did.
With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Dyonna Rodas reached on a shallow fly ball that was mis-played in shallow right field, and the rally was on. Rodas took second on a wild pitch and Gianna Altieri followed with a single. Altieri raced to second on the throw back to the infield, putting the tying run in scoring position.
That brought up Suffoletto, who was already 2-for-3 with a triple and four RBI. After a conference on the mound by South Kingstown, Suffoletto wasted no time adding to her big night. On the first pitch she saw from Samantha Hutchins, Suffoletto smashed a line drive back up the middle. Rodas and Altieri raced home to tie the game.
“Taylor came up huge today,” Bigelli said. “She had a play at third base and she was getting down on herself. I said, ‘I don’t care what you did. I care what you’re going to do.’ She came through.”
And West Side wasn’t done. Suffoletto moved to second on a wild pitch and Danaja Alpaio was hit by a pitch to put two runners on again.
Like Suffoletto, Detroia wasted no time. She roped the first pitch of the at-bat over shortstop, and Suffoletto scampered home with the winning run.
“They came out and hit the ball,” Bigelli said. “I’m proud of them.”
Detroia had come off the bench in the fifth inning. She’s the smallest member of the team, but she came up with the biggest hit of the summer.
“We get a lot of coaches saying, ‘How old is she?’” Bigelli said. “But she takes that and uses that for drive. We talked about substituting for her, but Sophia is putting the bat on the ball and that’s all we needed there. She came through. You see a lot of teams come in when she’s coming up to bat, but we’ve got a lot of confidence in her.”
Detroia also knocked in a run in the fifth inning and finished 1-for-2. Suffoletto led the offense, going 3-for-4 with six RBI. Lexi Brown and Alpaio added two hits each. Rodas, Altieri, Sydni Bigelli and Emily Carter each had one hit and a run scored. Hailey Marchetti added a single.
“It’s something that we preach,” Rick Bigelli said. “Our theme this year is family – pick each other up. No matter what happens – good, bad – pick each other up. I think they’re starting to catch on. This is what makes everything all worth it.”
Though the performance wasn’t perfect, West Side was happy to be moving on. Last year, its 12-year-old team finished as the state tournament runner-up and its 10-year-old team won the state title.
As the team chases more success, it now has a game it can learn from.
“I’m kind of hoping a game like this is going to help us in the state tournament,” Bigelli said. “Now, maybe their heads are a little smaller. They know that they’ve got to work.”