DICKINSON — Allison Unger’s two-run, sixth-inning single capped Maine-Endwell’s rally from a five-run deficit and helped the Spartans to a 7-6 victory against Beacon in the opening round of Class A state softball playoffs Tuesday at the BAGSAI Complex.
Sophomore Taylor Chidester pitched three innings of one-hit relief to earn the victory against the Section 1 champions from Dutchess County. Ahead for M-E (8-10) is a quarterfinal scheduled for 5 p.m. today at BAGSAI against Section 9 champion Cornwall (20-1).
The Spartans cut into a 6-1 deficit with four fifth-inning runs, and Unger took to the plate in the sixth with two runners aboard.
“I went up there and thought about it, I’m up here for my team, I’m not up here for myself,” she said. “I knew she was going to pitch me a changeup, so I just waited on it and hit it.”
The soft pitch ripped to left field scored Sydney Bendert, who had reached base when hit by a pitch with one out, and Natalie Knight running in favor of Cara Cawley, who had drawn a walk.
In the last of the seventh, Chidester struck out the leadoff batter, then surrendered a walk before inducing a comebacker that she fielded cleanly for the second out. The final out was registered when first baseman Cawley made a deft hands-over-head snag of Jalana Fuller’s shot down the line.
“It actually was in slow motion, to be honest,” was Unger’s description of her teammate’s game-ending grab from her center-field vantage point.
Chidester replaced starting pitcher Kim Jones to start the fifth inning with M-E trailing 6-1. The lone hit she surrendered was a two-out, fifth-inning single by 8th-grader Leandra Echi — who was responsible for the defensive play of the game in the fifth.
Chidester induced a groundout to shortstop to end Beacon’s fifth, and no ball left the infield in a 1-2-3 sixth.
“Taylor is mentally so tough and she can come in in any situation, she doesn’t care what it is,” M-E coach Todd Kariam said. “To shut down that team like that was huge for us.”
Said Beacon coach Brian Antalek: “The biggest difference between the two was, there was more velocity with the second pitcher and she also threw more consistently for strikes. She was right around the plate the whole time, throwing strikes. And when you’re throwing strikes you force people to swing the bat and if you get two strikes on them, you force them to swing at your pitch.
“You throw your pitch on a corner for a strike, you can get the girl to hit what you want them to hit and that makes a big difference.”
Beacon (20-5) took a 3-0 lead in a first inning that featured a bases-loaded, two-run double by Sara Laurelli. The Bulldogs made it 5-0 when catcher Chelsea Dexter sent an 0-2 pitch over the left field fence for a two-run home run.
M-E scratched out a run on a third-inning groundout, but Beacon made it 6-1 when Ashley Gonzalez singled in a run in the fourth.
“We gave up a few early runs, they did a great job putting the ball in play on us,” Kariam said. “We were a little shaky early but I give the girls credit for having the resolve to come back.”
Bendert opened M-E’s fifth with an infield single and Catherine Miller reached on an error before Echi’s defensive gem. She raced from center field clear to left to snare a ball off the bat of Cawley as her momentum brought her to the ground.
However, M-E came up with a run-scoring single by Unger and a two-run double by Chidester to draw within 6-4, and Emily Missavage’s sacrifice fly made it 6-5.
Unger’s single was the Spartans’ lone hit in the decisive sixth, and was immediately preceded by a two-out walk drawn by Cawley.
“We play as a family, we win as a family. It’s really exciting,” Unger said.