SOUTH AMHERST — In his first coaching appearance since being rushed to the hospital last week, Keystone coach Jim Piazza joked about how he told his team he was supposed to not have any stress.
Of course, his Wildcats and Firelands engaged in a nip-and-tuck Patriot Athletic Conference battle that came down to the wire Monday.
“Luckily my wife wasn’t here,” he said.
A two-run fourth inning in which runs were scored with two outs turned out to be the difference in a hard-fought 2-1 Wildcats victory.
“I give Sam a lot of credit,” Piazza said of Firelands pitcher Samantha Dostall. “She did a nice job and did everything possible to keep her team in it. But I also give our kids a lot of credit for sticking together and coming through when we needed them to come through.
“I think it’s a very good win for us. That’s a very good Firelands team. All last year, they gave us fits throughout the year. Sam’s a great pitcher and that’s a great team. For us, as young team, it’s a great learning experience for us to win a tight ballgame and to come from behind to do it. We had a lot of energy today, and in the conference, this is a big win for us.”
Keystone improves to 6-2, 2-1 in the PAC, while Firelands falls to 2-3 and 1-1.
Trailing 1-0 and being no-hit through three innings by Dostall (1-2), the Wildcats led off the fourth with a bunt single by Morgan McNulty. Dostall came back to strike out Carleigh Herrington and coax a foul popout by Brittany Bowers, but McNulty stole second to put the tying runner in scoring position with two outs.
On the first pitch to Jenny Schaeffer, McNulty broke for third. The throw from Firelands’ catcher Nicole Rainey skipped past third into left field, and McNulty was able to beat the throw from left to tie the score at 1.
“That was big,” Firelands coach Judy Dostall said. “I would have rather given up the base. We had two down. Let her have third base and focus on the batter. Sam was pitching a good game. When you’ve got a pitcher of that caliber, I’m OK with giving up the bag. But we made a decision and it might have cost us the ballgame.
“Those innings seem to haunt you. That one inning … because other than that, that ballgame’s ours, 1-0.”
Schaeffer ended up walking and promptly stole second and third. She scored when Sara Lowman drilled a 1-2 pitch into center field, giving the Wildcats a 2-1 lead.
“I have a lot of confidence in our bats,” Piazza said. “Now, if (Firelands) would have scored three or four runs with Sam on the mound, I would have been concerned. But only trailing by one, with our bats, I didn’t think it would be too hard to come back from.
“Sara came up with the big hit for us to give us the lead, and that was huge.”
Lowman, who went 1-for-3, knew she had to put the ball in play.
“It was hard because I had two strikes on me,” she said. “With a runner on third, I knew I had to hit the ball and it had to be solid. So when I made contact, all I thought was to drive through it. Just scoring that run really felt good, especially since Firelands has a really good defense. We just had to find the holes, and, fortunately, we found them at the right times.”
Firelands, which scored a run in the first inning on a two-out RBI single by Emma Ranney, threatened in the bottom of the fifth. The Falcons loaded the bases with nobody out against Emily Cornish (4-1) on back-to-back singles by Cassidi Kowalski and Lexi Shick and a fielding error by Herrington on a bunt by Rainey.
However, Taylor Marcum hit a grounder that died right in front of the plate. Bowers, who had just taken over behind the plate that inning, had the presence of mind to step on the plate after fielding the ball to force the lead runner before throwing to first for a huge double play.
Alex Willis followed with a groundout to Lowman at third, and the Wildcats escaped the threat unscathed.
“Just coming from third base to fill in because our catcher (Nicole Neri) hurt her hand, how big is that?” Piazza said. “It’s your first inning catching and you find yourself in that situation. But that’s a senior. That’s Brittany. She’s been around all four years as a starter, and she came up with a huge play for us.”
Firelands’ Brittany Reising led off the bottom of the sixth with a double, but Cornish came back to retire the final six hitters to seal the victory.
Cornish and Dostall each tossed five-hitters. Cornish struck out three and didn’t walk any, while Dostall struck out five and walked one.
Judy Dostall was pleased with her team’s showing, despite the result.
“We felt good taking the early lead,” she said. “I think we’ll be a contender in this conference. We’re not going to lie down. We’re going to practice hard and we’re going to play hard and we’re gonna be ready for everybody — Black River, Wellington, whoever else. These kids are serious this year. They want to make some noise.
“Today, I think, might have shocked a few people, I really do. We’re here to play.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or email@example.com.