Without a win on the season, and having just blown a six-run lead, the Johnston softball team had every reason to simply lie down on Tuesday afternoon.
Instead, the Panthers dug deep.
After going up 6-0, only to see Mt. Hope take a 9-6 lead in the fourth inning, Johnston rallied to tie the score in the fifth and then took the lead for good in the sixth, as the Panthers went on to an 11-10 victory.
Now at 1-3 in Division II-Central, Johnston and first-year head coach Ted Tutalo are happy to finally have a win under their belt.
“It is really nice,” Tutalo said. “I’m happy for the girls. The monkey is off their back. The first win is always the toughest one to get. My message to them has always been consistent: if they just keep working hard and improving, good things will happen. That showed today.”
The Panthers looked destined for their first win early on. Amanda Colombo didn’t surrender a hit through the first two innings, and she faced the minimum six hitters.
Offensively, Johnston put six runs across on five hits and a slew of Mt. Hope errors. Four runs scored in the first thanks to three consecutive hits by Danielle Gawlik, Lauren Barnes and Colombo to open the inning, as well as an RBI single from Lindsey Haskins later in the frame.
In the second inning, Johnston scored twice more on a sacrifice fly from Colombo and a passed ball.
With a six-run lead, everything was going according to plan.
But Mt. Hope caught fire, beginning in the third.
The Huskies scored three times in that inning. Colombo gave up consecutive singles to Caitlyn Benevides and Crystal Leitao to open the inning, and Mt. Hope loaded the bases on a single by Vivian Ramos. A single by Courtney Amaral scored Mt. Hope’s first run, and an infield error made the score 6-3.
Then in the fourth, it got ugly. Mt. Hope scored six times, as Colombo walked two batters, Johnston committed two errors and the Huskies banged out five hits.
Ramos and Courtney Bragantin each had an RBI, Alyssa Olsen knocked in two runs and suddenly, Mt. Hope was up 9-6.
“A little bit of sloppy defense, and our pitcher had trouble finding the strike zone in that inning,” Tutalo said. “A couple of walks and a couple errors led to a bunch of runs. That will happen with a team that’s young and inexperienced.”
The Panthers, however, came right back.
Facing Mt. Hope starter Sophie Costa, Johnston tied the game in the fifth. Ariana Caffeso and Alexandra Waters reached base to start the inning, and they advanced to second and third on a passed ball. Kurstyn McDougal made it hurt, singling up the middle to score them both.
A McDougal steal and a sac bunt by Lindsey Haskins put McDougal at third, and Kristen Beaumier tied the game with a single to right.
“Everybody contributed today, and the baserunning also was phenomenal,” Tutalo said. “We had girls scoring from third on bunts, we had girls beating out sacrifice bunts. Overall, I’m very pleased with the offense.”
In the top of the sixth, Mt. Hope regained the lead thanks to a single from Benevides, scoring Courtney Amaral. Down a run, though, Johnston stayed hot in the home half of the frame.
Lauren Barnes led off with a single and Colombo walked. After the runners advanced to third on an infield fly, Waters laid down a bunt.
Mt. Hope catcher Hannah Forsberg tried to make a tough play, but she threw the ball into right field. Both Barnes and Colombo came around, putting the Panthers on top 11-10.
“We spend a lot of time in the cage, a lot of time hitting working on inside pitches, outside pitches,” Colombo said. “Just all the way around. Hitting is very important to us.”
Clinging to the one-run lead, Colombo took the mound in the seventh hoping to shut the door.
She retired Julie Hanley on a groundball to Caffeso at third for the first out, induced a pop-up to Barnes, the catcher, off the bat of Ramos for the second out, and then got Forsberg to fly out to Gawlik in center to end the game.
Colombo needed just five pitches to retire the side in order.
“Usually it’s hard for me to settle myself down, but my teammates help me a lot,” Colombo said. “They’re very supportive. I know I have a good team in back of me, and that’s usually what calms me down.”
Mt. Hope dropped to 2-5 in D-II-East with the loss.
And with the final out in the books, the Panthers were free to celebrate the first in what they hope is a long line of wins.
“We’ve been coming closer and closer to a win,” Tutalo said. “They stuck with it. We were up six, got nine runs put on us, and then came back still and won the game. It says a lot about the character of this team. We’re young and inexperienced, but they’re showing a lot of heart.”
Johnston will be back in action on Thursday at Moses Brown at 3:45 p.m. On Saturday, the Panthers will travel to Cranston East’s Brayton Avenue Complex to take on the ’Bolts in a 7 p.m. game.