On the heels of perhaps its best performance of the year in a win over Ponaganset on Saturday, the Johnston softball team hosted Cranston East on Monday and jumped out to a 2-0 lead. The ’Bolts, who are in a fight for a playoff spot, came back to make it 2-1 but still trailed going into the fifth inning.
With the middle of East’s order due up in the top of the fifth, the Panthers felt that if they could get through that inning, they’d be well on their way to victory.
But they couldn’t get through it unscathed, and everything went downhill from there. The ’Bolts got four hits in the fifth inning to take the lead then exploded for 12 runs in the final two innings en route to a 16-3 victory.
“It was 2-1 in the fifth, and then a bunch of silly mistakes got the best of us,” said Johnston head coach Ted Tutalo. “There were a couple of walks and a couple of errors. They hit the ball too. I give Cranston East credit. They had some timely hitting. They’re a good team.”
The loss dropped the Panthers to 2-11 in league play, and it was a disappointing one, considering how the first few innings went. The Panthers were also coming off a non-league victory over Ponaganset on Saturday, a game they hoped they could build on.
“We played probably one of our best games of the year Saturday,” Tutalo said. “We had a big crowd for the strikeout cancer benefit, and all around the girls played well. They hit the ball, they played really sharp defense and they ran the bases aggressively. It was nice to see.”
The momentum seemed to carry over in the early going of Monday’s game. Lauren Barnes reached on an error to start the first inning. After a sacrifice bunt by Danielle Gawlik, Amanda Colombo smashed a double to deep left field to score Barnes for the 1-0 lead.
The Panthers added a second run on a strange sequence. Ariana Caffeso struck out, but the ball got away. The throw to first brought Jaylyn Lomba off the bag so she tagged Caffeso for the out, but Caffeso kept running and knocked her down. Meanwhile, a heads-up Colombo never stopped running and scored on the play.
When the dust settled, Johnston led 2-0 and kept that cushion through the next inning. Colombo – who had pitched around two hits in the first – worked another scoreless frame in the second.
East finally got on the board in the third. Lomba led off with a walk and moved to second on a groundout by Amanda Rosa. Taylor Burns followed with a single up the middle and Alexa St. Angelo brought Lomba home with a single of her own.
That was it for the rally, though, and Johnston was still in control. Colombo worked around two hits to pitch a scoreless fourth. East pitcher Paula Frost also settled in, pitching a perfect bottom half of the fourth.
The way things were going, both teams knew the top of the fifth inning would be a big one. East had its second, third and fourth hitters due up. The Panthers felt that if they could get through that stretch unscathed, they’d stand a pretty good chance of holding onto their lead.
“That’s exactly what we looked at,” Tutalo said. “All we had to was get through that fifth inning.”
Unfortunately for the Panthers, it was easier said than done.
Burns led off with a hard ground ball up the middle. Colombo tipped it with her glove, but the ball skipped into center field for a base hit. St. Angelo then smacked a line drive to left, and Burns motored to third.
On the second pitch of the next at-bat, the ball got away from Barnes behind the plate, and Burns scampered home with the tying run. St. Angelo rambled all the way to third.
Alexis McCarten then gave East the lead with a bloop single to left-center field, scoring St. Angelo. After McCarten stole second, Colombo got two quick outs, but Frost added to East’s lead with a line drive up the middle to score McCarten for the 4-2 lead.
“That fifth inning turned the game around,” said East head coach P.J. Bessette. “We had some key hits and we kept it going.”
And the turnaround continued in a big way. With a heavy rain falling, the ’Bolts sent 13 batters to the plate in the top of the sixth inning and busted the game open with seven runs. Colombo struggled to find the strike zone with the wet ball, and East drew six walks in the inning. Burns added an RBI single, while Frost, Michelle Tallo, Lomba and Rosa all picked up an RBI on bases-loaded walks.
“Johnston played a good game in the first few innings and then it kind of unraveled for them,” Bessette said. “The rain helped, and we put the ball in play.”
Reliever Alysha Zalewski finally got Johnston out of the inning with a popout and the Panthers scored a run in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI single by Tessa Centracchio, but East continued the onslaught in the seventh. McCarten started the inning with a double and came around on two wild pitches. Lomba later drew a bases-loaded walk to make it 13-3. Burns then cracked a bases-clearing double to right field for the 16-3 lead.
“We’re fighting for a playoff spot, and we started off slow today,” Bessette said. “We came out flat. We made a couple of errors. But the girls came out and started hitting the ball. They got on base. I give my girls a lot of credit. They didn’t quit. They know what’s at stake.”
Frost pitched a one-two-three seventh to seal the victory for the ’Bolts. She ended up allowing four hits while striking out three.
Johnston will now turn its attention to the final two games of the season. The Panthers will visit Pilgrim on Friday night before hosting West Warwick for Senior Night on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Mazzulla Field.
“We’re just going to try to build some momentum going into next year,” Tutalo said. “Saturday night is Senior Night, and that’s always a big night for the girls. I really expect a good performance Saturday night.”