SANBORN — There were a few tears as the Geneva softball team packed up its gear following Friday’s 8-7, eight-inning loss to Williamsville South. But the majority of the Panthers’ faces were dry, and beaming with a sense of accomplishment.
Geneva’s players had a few good reasons to walk off the Niagara-Wheatfield High School field with their collective heads held high. First, the Panthers came into Friday’s Class A Far West Regional final with their main goal — a Section V championship — securely tucked away in their back pockets. Second, they reached their goal with a team made up almost entirely of underclassmen.
The other reason to be proud: Geneva nearly pulled off a miracle.
Trailing 6-0 entering the bottom half of the seventh inning, the Panthers strung together a half-dozen runs to stun the Billies and force extra innings.
Williamsville South bounced back with a pair of runs in the top of the eighth. Geneva answered back with one run before the Section VI champs finally shut the door.
“I feel like, even with our seniors gone, we’ll come out even harder next year,” Geneva junior third baseman Lexy Spann said. “We’re so young and so talented. We can go all the way again.
“Our goal from the beginning was to win sectionals. We got further than that, and I’m very proud.”
Ali Augustine doubled and singled for Geneva (15-4) while Rachel Ficcaglia and Caroline McCulloch provided two-run singles during the Panthers’ seventh-inning rally; McCulloch also drove in Geneva’s run in the eighth. Maggie Cunningham added multiple hits with a triple and RBI single in the seventh.
“They take pride in their composure,” Geneva manager Mindy Ritter said. “I think it’s taken us deep because we’ve been in situations like this and they fight right to the end. It’s been a great ride.”
Before breaking down Geneva’s last-gasp rally, a little background is needed: Williamsville South defeated Starpoint 6-4 in Wednesday’s Section VI title game by scoring six runs in the bottom of the seventh.
The Billies were on the other end of the chaos Friday.
Ficcaglia began the seventh with a bloop single that dropped behind the second baseman. Augustine and Andrea Torres followed with singles that just eluded the center and right fielder, respectively, and Geneva had the bases loaded with no one out.
“We had our rally caps on, where we wear our helmets backwards,” Spann explained. “We were just being positive to everybody. We’re good hitters, and we knew that. We had to pick ourselves out of our slump and get on top of the ball.”
Cunningham’s single plated Geneva’s first run while Augustine raced home on a wild pitch. With runners on second and third, McCulloch made it 6-4 with a two-run single.
Williamsville South got the next two outs, sandwiched around an error. Guinan hit a hard come-backer that slammed off the pitcher’s glove and rolled back to the plate to reload the bases. Ficcaglia — up for the second time in the inning — then ripped a two-run single to tie the game at six.
“My girls, they want to be in that position,” Ritter said. “They want to be in the position where they’re moving people around. Some players shy away from that, they want to be there. It’s a great group to have.”
The Billies went back up the eighth on RBI base hits by Stephanie Tirone and Nicole Rice, but the Panthers had a little more fight left in them.
Cunningham blasted a triple to center with one out and McCulloch brought her in with a base hit. Maddi Cooley singled up the middle to put two runners on, but the Billies got the last two outs on a liner to third and a fielder’s choice to third to end the game.
“(Williamsville South) played a great game of small ball mixed in with their really good hits. They played a great game and I wish them well,” Ritter said.
“We battled to the end. I’ve talked all season long about our composure because we’re so young. They showed that again today. That’s what this team’s all about.”