LANCASTER — On Monday night in the opener of the Cortland Softball League playoffs, the Ayer Lady Panthers battled Mother Nature, in the form of an incoming storm, and the Lancaster Revolutionaries.
The Lady Panthers survived both.
Ayer showed plenty of resilience as they battled back from a 7-3 deficit, getting a brilliant relief effort from Kassie Breest as they rallied for a scintillating 9-7 victory.
Breest was immense, tossing three shutout innings that allowed her team to come all the way back. Over those three innings, she allowed three hits and just one walk, while notching a strikeout. She did a good job of getting ahead on the count and making a big pitch when needed.
Lancaster fought to the final out, loading the bases with two outs, but Breest fielded a ground ball and fired to home plate to record the final out of the game.
The Lady Panthers took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Sarah Ernst led off with a walk and came around to score on Breest’s two-out single.
Lancaster mounted a two-out rally in the bottom of the inning, scoring a pair of runs to take a 2-1 lead after one inning.
Ayer tied the game in the top of the second when Jocelyn Breault drew a two-out walk and came around to score when Kailey Vidal blasted a triple deep into the right center field gap.
Ayer starting pitcher Rebecca Ernst tossed a goose egg in the bottom of the inning and the game was tied at 2-2 entering the third inning.
For the third consecutive inning, Ayer plated a single run to move in front 3-2, getting consecutive singles from Kelley Flynn, Annie Hasz and Bradleigh Schultz (RBI) with one out.
Lancaster erupted for five runs in the bottom of the inning on two walks and four singles to build a 7-3 advantage half way through the game.
The Lady Panthers answered in kind with a five-spot of their own in the top of the fourth to regain the lead. Hannah Dixon, Krista Prehl and Breest set the table by opening the inning with singles. Three Lancaster errors, plus an RBI single by Rebecca Ernst put the Lady Panthers on top 8-7.
Breest came on in relief and things settled down in a hurry as she worked a very quick 1-2-3 inning. She helped her own cause by hauling down a hard line drive that was destined for a hit up the middle.
After the fourth inning, the wind started to pick up and the low-hanging clouds darkened and drew closer, but the teams kept playing. Neither team was able to score in the fifth inning as Ayer received a pair of solid defensive plays to keep Lancaster off the board.
Shortstop Rebecca Ernst fielded a hot ground ball toward the middle and made a strong throw for the first out of the inning. After Lancaster got a pair of two-out singles to mount a threat, Breest fired a strike to catcher Sarah Ernst who applied the tag on Lancaster’s speedy leadoff hitter, when she tried to score after an error. That kept the one-run lead intact.
In the top of the sixth, after their first two batters were retired, Ayer added a crucial insurance run when Sarah Ernst singled and Dixon, Prehl and Breest (RBI) drew consecutive walks.
But Lancaster refused to give in with a two-run deficit in the bottom of the sixth. After two groundouts, a pair of singles, sandwiched around a walk loaded the bases, setting the stage for Breest’s game-ending play.
Breest paced the Lady Panthers offense with two singles, a run scored and two runs-batted-in. Sarah Ernst singled, walked and scored two runs.