By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – There’s never a dull moment in the Bristol Girls Little League Softball City Series.
On Friday, June 16, the Freedom and Black Panthers were deadlocked in an 11-11 stalemate, heading into the top of the sixth and final inning.
The winner of the event earned the privilege to square off against the Gators for the city series title and each team wanted that honor.
And in the end, a game-ending double play – spearheaded by winning pitcher Sierra Messier – gave the Freedom a 12-11 come-from-behind win from Rockwell Field.
To end the contest, a ball popped up to Messier on the mound was quickly caught for the second out of the sixth inning and, with runners on first and second, the pitcher had the presence to whirl it to first base to get the runner who left the bag early.
Off the final out of the game, it was celebration time for the Freedom.
The winning run was scored by the Freedom’s Sophia Mazzone off a passed ball – making it a 12-11 game.
The Black Panthers were ahead by a 7-2 score after two innings but the Freedom used a 9-1 burst to snare an 11-8 lead before watching the opponent score three unanswered runs to tie things up at 11-11.
And it was fun from the start with the Freedom up at the plate.
Emily Valentine walked with one gone in the first, went to second on a passed ball and stole third.
But two outs were on the board – via two Sam Burke strikeouts – as Tanher Thurston (3-for-4, three RBI, three runs) got to the plate.
She popped out to Burke as the Black Panthers earned its first ups in a 0-0 game.
The Black Panthers saw Cierra Jones (single, three runs) get hit-by-a-pitch and when Jayna Hatcher (2-for-2, two walks) unleashed an infield hit to shortstop, two runners were on.
The duo advanced on a passed ball and while Gia Hatcher took strike three, a passed ball allowed her to arrive at first safely and Jones scored to make it a 1-0 game.
And then with runners at second and third, Messier picked up her second strikeout of the inning but Jayna Hatcher (two walks) scored the second run off another passed ball.
Desiree Nickerson (2-for-4, three RBI) later sent a blooper just to the edge of center field as the RBI single scored Gia Hatcher and made it a 3-0 game through one inning of work.
In the Freedom second, Grace Higgins found her way on base in the second on a passed ball strikeout and when she swiped second, the runner was in scoring position.
Later ending up on third, she scored on a passed ball to make it a 3-1 game.
Sophia Mazzone (four walks) then earned a base-on-balls and the Freedom offense went right back to work.
Solid base running saw Mazzone steal second and quickly came home on a ball that squirted away from the catcher and suddenly, the Freedom’s deficit was chopped to 3-2.
A walk to the Black Panthers’ Adrianna Rappleyea (three walks, two runs) ended up being a three-base adventure as errors put the runner on third with one gone in the second stanza.
Rappleyea later tagged the plate on a passed ball to lead the Black Panthers to a 4-2 push.
Jones then walked and Jayna Hatcher smashed a ball passed the shortstop for a base hit but an error allowed Jones to score – making it a 5-2 contest.
Gabby Caucci then took ball four as runners occupied first and second with one out and when Gia Hatcher walked, the bases were loaded.
With two gone, Nickerson smashed a single up the middle – scoring two – as the Black Panthers led it 7-2 through two innings of action.
In the third, Yorkhill walked to open the frame and Thurston followed up with a single to right field.
Yorkhill never stopped running and in a close play at the plate, the runner scored to cut the deficit to 7-3.
Grace Lamar (2-for-4, two RBI) then dropped in an infield hit to shortstop and her RBI tally scored Thurston to make it 7-4.
Higgins then laid down a bunt, arriving to first base safely, as Lamar was rounding third, and was waved home.
Lamar ended up safe at the plate as the deficit was chopped to two at 7-5.
Ava Gusner was plunked by a pitch to open the Black Panthers’ third tilt, took second on a passed ball, and went to third on a grounder by Rappleyea.
She scored on a passed ball to increase the Black Panthers’ edge to 8-5 through three completed innings.
Valentine zipped up a walk to begin the fourth stanza, then stole second, and the Freedom were off and running.
She ended up at third on a passed ball while Yorkhill earned a base-on-balls as well.
With runners on second and third, Thurston dropped in a bases-clearing double to center and quickly, the Freedom trailed by just an 8-7 push.
And when Lamar slapped another infield hit to short, Thurston scored and it was a brand new game at 8-8.
A bang-bang double-play appeared to erase any additional momentum by the Freedom but Mazzone walked and Steph Jabs smoked a single past the first base bag and quickly, that momentum was back.
And when a Madison Charette hit could not be scooped up, the bases were loaded for the leadoff hitter.
Messler hit an offering to shortstop and the play was to third base.
The ball was fumbled on the catch, the runner was safe on arrival as Mazzone just scored in time to make it a 9-8 game with the Freedom finally on top.
Burke walked for the Panthers with one out in the bottom of the fourth and the tying runner was on.
But Messier and crew were quickly one out away from the Freedom’s first scoreless inning of the showdown.
And off one final K, the Freedoms’ 9-8 push was holding pat.
The top of the fifth saw Valentine earn her third walk of the game and she took second base via steal.
Valentine was later thrown at trying to swipe third but Yorkhill ended up at second on the play.
Thurston then sent a double to the fence in left to score Yorkhill as the Freedom zipped up a 10-8 edge.
Thurston later scored on a passed ball and an 11-8 lead ensued.
But the Panthers responded for three runs and with one out in the bottom of the fifth, Rappleyea walked and Jones singled to put two runners on.
Rappleyea eventually scored on a wild pitch to trim the deficit to 11-9 but quickly, Jones and Jayna Hatcher were in scoring position.
Gia Hatcher walked with two outs to load the bases and on a passed ball, Jones sprinted home.
Lamar, behind the plate, got the ball and applied a quick tag but the ball wasn’t in her glove, and the runner was called safe, making it 11-10.
And when Jayna Hatcher scored on a passed ball, it was an 11-11 contest and all tied up for the second time that evening.
Mazzone walked to open the sixth and final inning and advanced to second on a wild pitch while Sophia Pelkey also drew ball four to put a couple runners on.
And then on a strikeout of Charette, the past ball was thrown into right field as Mazzone scored the game-winning run to propel the Freedom to a 12-11 lead.
The Black Panthers had to score a run in the bottom of the sixth to send the contest into extra innings.
And with one gone, Gusner and Rappleyea both walked, representing the tying and winning runs.
After a quick team meeting on the mound, the Freedom had to tangle with the top of the Black Panther’s order.
And then it happened.
Jones popped out to the pitcher and then she quickly threw the ball to first base for the game-ending double play as the Freedom was headed to the championship game against the Gators the following day – needing to beat that squad twice in order to take the city series championship.
NOTES…And in game one of that championship series, the Freedom pulled off an amazing 23-8 upset – forcing a second and winner-take-all title showdown.
And in that final contest, the Freedom won it all, sinking the Gators 21-16.