DUNKIRK - While it may have taken the Falconer Lady Golden Falcons nearly 50 hours to finish up their Section 6 Class B crossover title softball game, boy, was it worth the wait.
In a game that had been postponed not once but twice over the weekend due to inclement weather, it was brilliant pitching by sophomore hurler Abby Courtney; a timely hit by, who else, Kaylei Russell during the first day of the contest on Saturday afternoon; and a bang-bang double play at the plate in the bottom of the seventh that carried the young upstarts to a slim, 1-0 victory over Eden on Monday at Dunkirk High School.
The overall Class B title was the squad's first since 2011 and the first under second-year Lady Golden Falcons coach Paul Lombardo.
Falconer’s Shannon Gunnell puts a tag on Emily Hale of Eden for an inning-ending and game-ending double play in the Lady Golden Falcons’ 1-0 win in the Section 6 Class B softball title game on Monday. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
"This is the longest game I've ever coached," said Lombardo with a laugh as his happy squad and their joyous fans celebrated on the diamond behind him. "I started coaching for this game last Wednesday, so this is what, five days now? This is a five-day game in my mind and we just kept saying, it doesn't matter when or where we play, we were going to show up and do the best we could."
Their best shone especially bright in the bottom half of the seventh.
Leading off the fateful inning was Sabrina Kraska, who became just the fifth Eden hitter of the game to reach base when her grounder was mishandled in the infield. Unperturbed, however, Courtney came back and forced the ensuing batter, Hayley Kobie, into a groundout, putting one out on the board but also moving Kraska's courtesy runner, Emily Hale (Kraska had been injured on a pickoff throw to first) into scoring position.
Then came the whirlwind play that clinched for Falconer (11-11) a place in today's Far West Regional at the College of Brockport at 6 p.m. against the Section 5 champion.
Taking the sign from her coach, Carly Nasca laid down a bunt, seemingly to move Hale one base closer to scoring the game-tying run. But as Falconer catcher Shannon Gunnell fielded the ball and fired to first, which was being covered by second baseman Shannon McFall, Hale rounded third and her coach yelled for her to keep going. McFall, seeing what was happening, fired home at Gunnell.
When the dust cleared, Gunnell triumphantly held the ball and the home plate umpire pumped his first, ending the game.
"I threw the ball and all of a sudden everyone was screaming 'Go home!'," Courtney said of the game-clinching events. "I turned around and the runner was out (at the plate). It was an amazing feeling and I'm so excited to be going on."
After the play, much cheering - on the third-base side of the field, at least - ensued.
"We knew it was going to be a close game, we didn't panic and that was the thing," Lombardo said. "Shannon (McFall) came in, waited for (Hale) to commit to the plate and made the throw. And I've got to tell you, I'll stack Shannon Gunnell up with any catcher I've seen at this level because she blocks everything, including the base when the runner is coming in."
Courtney earned the complete-game victory, walking a mere two batters and fanning six. She faced only five over the minimum and surrendered just one hit - a double in the fourth inning.
"She's gutsy," Lombardo said. "I'll tell you, on the bus she was extremely focused. I kept asking her if she was OK, and she said, 'Oh yeah.'
"When she got off the bus she had her game face on, and she went out there with a lot of poise."
Showing much poise a few days earlier was Courtney's teammate, Russell.
Russell, who in her last two playoff contests hit a home run and a triple (both of which were crucial in securing the Lady Golden Falcons' victory), was at it again in this one.
On Saturday in the second inning, after Katie Hines reached on an error, the sophomore ripped a two-out triple that pushed across what would become, two days later, the game-winning run.
The hit was one of just two Falconer would manage all game (Brianna McFall delivered a single in the first), but that was all they would need.
"At the beginning of the season I told them that they had the chemistry (to win)," Lombardo said of his team. "I didn't know how far they would go, but I knew that they could do good things.
"And they have."