Lady Saints edged by undefeated Greenbrier

Published 10:31 pm Wednesday, May 20, 2009

CHESAPEAKE – Nansemond-Suffolk’s softball team surrendered a sacrifice fly and the winning run during the bottom of the seventh inning of Wednesday’s Tidewater Conference title game at Greenbrier Christian. It was a dramatic play that ended with an off-target throw from leftfielder Ashlie Holmes and Greenbrier Christian’s Allie Vaughan sliding home safely for a 4-3 GC victory.

How the teams came to be deadlocked at that late stage of the game was also dramatic, given that NSA trailed 3-0 entering the seventh and had only one hit off Gators’ ace Brittany Lane to that point.

Amber Daniels, the Saints’ leadoff hitter for the inning, beat out an infield single. Kelsey Ritter followed with a triple that got NSA on the scoreboard and then confusion reigned for several minutes when a Lane pitch was initially ruled to have hit Mackenzie Matthews.


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Greenbrier Christian complained that the ball had struck Matthews’ bat and the home plate umpire caused an NSA uproar when she consulted only the third-base umpire, who was staring at the right-handed Matthews’ back during the play. The ladies in blue then overturned the initial call, which left NSA coach Kim Aston and assistant Rudy Copeland up in arms.

There was further discussion and Copeland later said he pointed out that Matthews, although her body language had given no indication of pain, had a growing welt on her wrist. The arbiters reversed themselves again and sent Matthews back to first, putting runners at the corners with no outs and a 3-1 score.

Allie Thorndike, the next batter, laid down a sacrifice bunt and Ritter beat the return throw from first to home to pull the Saints within 3-2.

Morgan Daughtry followed with another bunt, which Lane fielded and threw to the second baseman covering first, only to see her teammate drop the ball. Matthews, who had advanced to third on Thorndike’s sacrifice, scored on the fielding error to tie the game.

The sentiment running through fans and competitors alike was that if NSA could push across another run, it had a real chance to upset the 23-0 Gators. But Ashlie Holmes grounded out and Victoria Pittman struck out to end the Saints’ at-bat and Greenbrier Christian brought the top of its order to the plate.

Leadoff hitter Lane grounded out to second on a nice stretch by first baseman Daniels, and the visitors were only two outs from extra innings. However, third baseman Pittman committed a throwing error that allowed No. 2 batter Vaughan to reach first and she advanced to second when Pittman and second baseman Brooke Starling couldn’t combine to force her at the center bag off a Kayla Fussell grounder down the line.

Alexa Augustine, Greenbrier Christian’s next batter, hit a grounder that shortstop Daughtry couldn’t handle and suddenly the bases were full of Gators with only one out. Sommer DiFulgo followed with the deciding sacrifice fly to Holmes and the Saints were left sniffling while their foes posed for pictures with the conference title plaque.

“I think (an accurate throw) would have made the play close because we had the outfield pulled up and it wasn’t a real deep hit,” Aston said. “Unfortunately, that’s the first real play at the plate we’ve had all season and even practicing it a lot doesn’t prepare you for this kind of situation.”

Saints right fielder Mary Kate Fowler said her heart sank when DiFulgo swatted the ball in the air.

“I kind of knew it was over right then,” the senior said. “(Holmes) has a cannon, but Allie’s so fast and it seemed like she was about 10 feet down the line as soon as the ball was caught. These close ones are terrible and hard to take.”

NSA (13-7) lost 7-0 during the teams’ regular season meeting and Fowler will graduate without a victory against the Gators in four varsity seasons. Then again, Greenbrier Christian won its fourth state title since 2004 this past weekend, part of a scheduling quirk created by rainouts in the conference tournament earlier this month.

“I remember my first couple years, we would celebrate if we even got a bat on the ball against them,” Fowler said. “Last season we finally scored on them and that was a big deal, and today we could have beaten them. It was there for us but it just didn’t work out.”

Lost somewhat in the tense ending was a standout pitching performance by Ritter, who struck out six Gators and walked one while allowing six hits and two earned runs. Lane, who hurled a perfect game through 13 batters, struck out 13 Saints and allowed three hits.