By Chris Estrada, Globe Correspondent
WORCESTER – Small ball brought the biggest prize for the Lexington softball team tonight at Rockwood Field.
With runners at the corners and one out, Gardner pitcher Elyssa Boris got a third strike on Minuteman batter Amanda McKenna only to see it dropped. McKenna ran to first base to force a throw there, which enabled Beth Rutila to dash home and score. Then in the bottom of the seventh, Kiki Saveriano put the finishing touches on a 16-strikeout no-hitter by striking out the side to give Lexington their first state championship since 1976 with a 1-0 victory over the Wildcats.
“Beth had a great jump and took off right when she should have,” said Lexington coach Frank Pagliuca. “That’s a credit to them and that’s the little things that we’ve been doing up to this point. It’s a great win.”
Pagliuca was also elated for his pitcher’s performance, which he called “unbelievable.”
“[She] proved tonight that she, as I’ve said before, is one of the best pitchers in the state,” he said. “That’s a credit to her demeanor…She got behind on one of the hitters late in the game, I believe 3-0, and she battled back, and that’s her mentality this year. She has really matured to be one of those pitchers.”
Saveriano expected to win the game, but she had no idea that she’d be able to perform at such a high level on perhaps the biggest night of her high school career.
“I expected the team to win it obviously, because we’ve really deserved it this year, but, you know, I only had 16 strikeouts and the team got the other ones,” the happy pitcher said as she clutched the MIAA Div. 1 championship trophy.
“In the beginning of our season, not even the postseason, our team had a hard time coming back in these situations. We’ve definitely learned since the postseason started.”
The Minutemen left the bases loaded in the top of the second, then left five more through the first six innings. But everything came together in the seventh.
Rutila led off the top half of the inning with a walk and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from left fielder Callie Tingley. Sarah Heingartner then laid another bunt just outside of the batter’s box that managed to stay on the fair side of the first baseline.
Heingartner took second on the first pitch to McKenna, who fouled off twice before having her dropped third strike – and then tearing off toward first. Gardner catcher Jocelyn Goodale fired to first baseman Nikki Boris to get McKenna out, but Nikki’s throw back to Goodale was too late as Rutila beat the tag.
“Coach told me to run and I ran, pretty much,” Rutila said. “We went over that in practice yesterday because there was a dropped third strike and in those situations, [Saveriano] didn’t go in for the [at-bat]. I didn’t see her go in, so I went.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s – I don’t know. It hasn’t really sunk in yet.”
As for Wildcats coach Howie Klash, he remained stoic after a second straight defeat for his club in the Div. 1 finals and called his players “fabulous people.” He also had high praise for Saveriano.
“We ran into a tough pitcher today,” he said. “She was real tough, probably the best high school pitcher I’ve seen in all my years of coaching. She was real tough today, there’s no doubt about that.
“[The strikeout play] is tough, but that’s part of the game. A finish like that happens.”
So did Lexington’s ability to stay focused in a tight spot. For Pagliuca, it was another affirmation of that fact.
“We’ve had grinders all the way through and as I’ve said to you before, we know how to play in those situations,” he said. “We didn’t panic, we knew that we would get another opportunity, and we took advantage of that.
“I’m just so proud of them from where they’ve come to where they are now, especially the two seniors [McKenna and Tingley] on our team. For them to go through that, it’s just a great way to end their career."
Lexington (24-2) ... 000 000 1 - 1 5 0
Gardner (20-5)...... 000 000 0 - 0 0 0
Lex: Kiki Saveriano and Alyssa Zahka. Gard: Elyssa Boris and Jocelyn Goodale.
WP -- Saveriano. LP -- Boris.
Saveriano threw 93 pitches with 65 going for strikes; her highest number of pitches in an inning was 23 in the fourth inning (two strikeouts, a grounder, and a walk). She allowed another walk in the fifth...Gardner's Nikki Berube was called out twice for bunting with two strikes in the count, once in the first inning and again to close the bottom of the sixth...Boris threw 99 pitches with 64 for strikes. Her highest number of pitches in the inning was 24 in the first, as she escaped a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout of Rutila...No Gardner player was able to reach second base for the whole game.
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- Zuri Berry: Berry attended the same high school as sports legends O.J. Simpson and Joe DiMaggio. (Guess which one is his hero.) He's a South Boston resident (formerly of Eastie) and the editor of the High School Sports blog as well as the go-to-guy for everything high school sports on Boston.com. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ZuriBerry for all of the latest updates.
Then there are our winter correspondents:
- Alex Hall | @AlexKHall | Baseball
- Colleen Casey | @ColleenCasey226 | Softball
- Mike Giesta | Boys lacrosse
- Catherine Calsolaro | @catrenee13 | Girls lacrosse
- Liz Torres | @etorres446 | Boys volleyball
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