AYER — At certain points of the season, teams are involved in games that are barometers for where they stand. The Ayer softball team had just such a contest on Wednesday afternoon, and the barometer dictated bright and sunny as the Lady Panthers rallied in the bottom of the seventh to post a pulsating 5-4 win over a tough Narragansett squad.
Ayer trailed 4-2 entering the bottom of the seventh, having been held to four hits over the first six innings by Narragansett pitcher Kimmie Morris. But the Lady Panthers bunched together four hits in the frame to remain unbeaten.
With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Sabrina Schwartz singled up the middle. After a strikeout, Jess Peck kept the Lady Panthers alive with a single. When pinch-hitter Clara Watson was hit by a pitch, it set up the situation Ayer was looking for — Gina Gibson at the plate with the game on the line. Gibson delivered in a big way, ripping a line drive over the Narragansett centerfielder’s head as the three runners scurried around the bases, setting off a celebration at home plate.
“The hit by pitch was big because it set up the bases loaded with the best hitter in the league at the plate,” said Ayer coach Dan Civitarese. “I am very happy with the comeback we made against a good team.”
Gibson earned the victory on the mound with a route-going effort, allowing three earned runs and eight hits over seven innings while striking out three and walking two.
“Gina threw hard and walked only two against a very good hitting team,” said Civitarese.
Narragansett struck first in the top of the first with a pair of runs. Olivia Chicoine and Danielle Kirby set the table with one-out singles, before Hayley Zisk (single) and Sarah Raimond (sacrifice fly) drove in the runs.
Morris baffled Ayer over the first two innings, retiring all six hitters she faced, but Gibson settled down and tossed goose eggs in the second and third. In the third, the Ayer pitcher deflected a vicious line drive by Zisk to shortstop Ally Fillebrown, who flipped to second for an important force play.
The Lady Panthers finally got untracked offensively in the bottom of the third and cut into the lead. With one out, Schwartz singled and raced around the bases on Hayley Wilcox’s hard double to right center field. Wilcox escaped a rundown between second and third, which proved to be pivotal when the next hitter, Jess Peck laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to make it 2-2.
Ayer threatened again in the bottom of the fourth when Gibson and Shelby Sponaugle led off with singles and moved to second and third on a double steal, but Morris bore down and retired the next three hitters to keep the deadlock intact.
The Ayer defense, which was solid throughout most of the game, let down in the top of the fifth and it cost them. After the first two hitters were retired easily, Megan White reached on an error and moved to second on a wild pitch. She came around to score when Raimond reached on an error. Morris singled to put runners on second and third, but Gibson induced an inning-ending groundout to keep it a one run game.
Morris shut down Ayer in the fifth and sixth innings, and the Warriors tacked on an insurance run in the top of the seventh when Zisk doubled and scored on Morris’ single. A pair of outstanding defensive plays by the Lady Panthers prevented further damage as left fielder Sydney Woods took a hit away from Raymond with a shoestring catch of a hard, sinking line drive, and catcher Schwartz gunned down Morris trying to steal second.
That set the stage for the Lady Panthers’ winning rally.
“We played solid defense in the game,” said Civitarese. “Shelby Sponaugle at second base and Sydney Woods in left play were outstanding. Sabrina Schwartz played a strong all-around game with a couple of hits and a great throw to catch the runner trying to steal second at an important time of the game. The only thing we didn’t do well in the game was that we took too many called third strikes.”
Gibson paced the Lady Panthers’ offense with a single, double and three runs-batted-n, while Schwartz was 2-for-2 with two runs scored.