By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Nitro wanted another shot at the Blast in Bristol Little League Softball City Series play.
And after defeating the Freedom on Thursday, August 24 by a 23-8 final, the squad got its chance.
The Nitro (2-1 in City Series play) earned another shot against the Blast who defeated the team the previous night 4-3 in an amazing eight-inning war.
But in this one against the Freedom, the Nitro led wire-to-wire and at one point, scooped up a 23-0 push through two innings of action.
“The girls came out and played hard right out of the gates,” said Nitro coach Jennifer Shorette. “I think they were still running on adrenaline from that game against the Blast [the previous] night. They came out bats ready and we’re real proud of them.”
However, despite the lopsided score, the Freedom’s players continued to compete, continued to cheer on their players and battle to the bitter end – scoring the final eight runs of the game before finally bowing out.
“That’s the team we build,” said Freedom manager Amanda Hill. “That’s the type of mind frame you have to give these young players…just because the score is a lot to a little doesn’t mean that you are out of it. You have to come [and compete] to the end. You never know what’s going to happen.”
But the Nitro notched 18 first inning runs to salt the game away early.
The Nitro loaded the bases off two walks and an infield hit from Gabby Buonafede (3-of-4, four runs) before Hannah Webber (4-of-5, triple, six RBI) dropped in a hit to third base that was not playable, scoring Sophia Bouchard (double, three walks, four runs, two RBI) to make it 1-0.
Later, Buonafede scored on a wild pitch, as did Alex Shorette (3-for-4, three runs, three RBI), and when Webber crossed the plate on an error, the tally made it a 4-0 game.
JJ Cretella scored on a throw that got by the catcher to push the Nitro edge to 5-0 and after Mia Gagliardi walked, Ashley Serafin was plunked by a pitch, and Makayla Bouchard reached via an error, there were three ducks in the pond for Aubrey Wolfradt (2-for-2, two walks, two runs, RBI).
She walked to drive in a run and the Nitro surged in front 6-0 as Sophia Bouchard was up to bat for the second time in the frame.
With Freedom relief pitcher Jayna Hatcher in the game, Bouchard drilled a double to center to drive in two and off a couple miscues, a 10-0 lead quickly followed.
An RBI single by Shorette plated another run and Webber drilled an RBI triple to deep center to make it 12-0.
Cretella then bunted, producing the first out of the inning, but Webber scored from third as it became a 13-0 contest.
The Nitro reloaded the bases with Sophia Bouchard up for a third chance in the top of the first inning.
The batter walked to force another run in, making it a 14-0 push and Buonafede was hit-by-pitch to score a run of her own.
Shorette then drilled her second base hit of the stanza, plating two runs, and a 17-0 lead ensued but the Freedom were just one out away from getting off of the field.
Webbed slapped an RBI double to center to score another run and off one final out, it was an 18-0 lead for the Nitro just half an inning into things.
The Freedom showed some grit in the bottom of the stanza as Sarah Lacouture and Meredith Valley drew back-to-back walks and eventually got into scoring position.
But two strikeouts later, the Nitro were back at the plate – keeping the Freedom from scoring a run.
In the top of the second, Keyonna Moul reached on a fielding gaffe but Hatcher made a catch on the mound of a Serafin pop-up for the first out and when she threw it to second – picking off the runner – it was a big double play for the Freedom.
Makayla Bouchard was later hit by a pitch and Wolfradt then unleashed a single to left, eventually taking second, as two runners were in scoring position.
Sophia Bouchard then walked for the third time in the contest to load things up and the Freedom went to Hailey Beebe on the rubber.
Buonafede tapped a ball just out of the pitcher’s reach, turning it into an RBI infield hit to make it a 19-0 game with the bases all still occupied.
An error scored another run and a Webber double to right-center cleared the bases for three RBI and the Nitro pushed in front, 23-0 through an inning-and-a-half.
In the bottom of the second, the Freedom’s Kaylynne York Hill drew a one-out walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Gracie Lamar also earned ball four and Gabby Caucci walked to load up the bases for Lacouture.
But York Hill was called out trying to swipe the plate as the Nitro entered the third tilt still ahead by twenty-three runs.
Beebe then caught a little fire on the mound, putting together two K’s while York Hill made a great throw off a grounder from third base to first as the Freedom did not yield a third inning run.
“She was very consistent,” said Hill of Beebe. “I think she was able to keep her frame of mind no matter the situation that she was in and delivered when she needed to. She’s a very strong player all-around especially for how young she is. She’s nine years old and some of these girls are 13 and in eighth grade.”
Valley then smoked a single passed first base for the squad’s first hit of the outing in the bottom of the third tilt and Angelina Seluaggi walked to put two on with one out.
Hatcher later grounded out but a wild pitch scored Valley to get the squad on the scoreboard, 23-1.
Beebe drew a walk to put runners on the corners and eventually nabbed third on a passed ball.
York Hill earned a base-on-balls to load up the bases and Lamar then walked a runner home as the Freedom added another run to the scoreboard.
Beebe ran home off a botched pickoff play, the third run of the game for the freedom, and Sierra Messier then walked to juice the bases as the top of the order was up for the Freedom.
Two consecutive RBI walks chopped the deficit to 18 before the third frame was said and done, now 23-5.
The Nitro loaded up the bases in the top of the fourth but Beebe struck out Webber and a ground out by Cretella once again kept the squad scoreless for a second consecutive inning but the Freedom had to score nine runs in the bottom of the tilt to keep the game going or face the 10-run mercy rule.
“I couldn’t be more proud of those girls,” said Shorette of the Freedom. “I know a couple of them were pulled out of the minors and this is their first opportunity to not only play in the majors but to play in a City Series. To play at this level and have this kind of competition, I couldn’t be more proud. Those girls were so solid….Bristol’s got a bright future ahead in softball.”
The Freedom started their rally with a Seluaggi walk and an error saw Hatcher arrive at first base safely.
And the Freedom’s players were up and cheering each and every batter as the squad was looking to deliver some late game heroics.
“These girls just love to play ball and to be here,” said Freedom coach Laura Lamar. “It was lopsided, yes, but they still fought, they still cheered each other on and they gave each other confidence.”
“I’m very proud of them.”
With one out, Gracie Lamar earned her second RBI walk to cut it to 23-6 but Hatcher was caught at home trying to score on a passed ball for the second out.
Beebe then stole home when Messier walked and it was suddenly a 23-7 game and soon, the bases were reloaded again.
Another bases loaded walk notched a run but off one final strikeout by Shorette, the Nitro were off to the championship round to battle the Blast, winning it 23-8.
“They are hard workers,” said Hill of her squad. “I could not be more proud. It was a great season. We finished strong all the way to the end, every single game we had it was strong to the end.”
And that victory set-up a rematch between the Nitro and the Blast with the Nitro needing to defeat the Blast on both Friday, August 25 and Saturday, August 26 to claim the City Series Championship.
“We gave the Blast a battle of a lifetime” the previous night said Shorette. “People are still talking this morning about what a game it was. That was a game I’d pay money to see. Hopefully, we can bring it again, give the crowd a good show, keep the girls up and battle them to the end.”
And all those Nitro players were also chomping at the bit to get that rematch with the Blast as well.
“I want to play them again…” said Webber. “I think we will [win].”