The Johnston softball team didn’t have its best game Tuesday night, particularly on defense. And West Warwick was a bad opponent to have that kind of night against.
The Wizards, who came in with a 6-2 record, created constant pressure for the Johnston defense by putting the ball in play and using their speed once they got on the basepaths. Though the Panthers had a decent day with the bats, they couldn’t keep pace as the Wizards pulled away for a 14-4 victory in six innings.
The loss dropped Johnston to 2-7.
“We made a lot of silly mistakes in the field,” said Johnston head coach Ted Tutalo. “Our pitcher pitched her heart out as far as I’m concerned and we didn’t do too bad at the plate either. But our defense really let us down. That was pretty much it.”
The Panthers actually got off to a good start. Lauren Barnes jumped on the first pitch of the game and lined a single to right. Danielle Gawlik then put down a bunt and reached when the throw to first got away. Barnes reached third. Ariana Caffeso then knocked Barnes home with a sacrifice fly.
Unfortunately for Johnston, the lead was short-lived. West Warwick took advantage of four first-inning errors and a walk to jump in front 3-1. The Wizards only had one hit in the inning, an RBI infield single by Briana Gough, but the errors piled up for Johnston.
In the second inning, the Johnston defense got on track – but so did the West Warwick offense. The Wizards drew three walks and Nikki Moretti scored on a wild pitch before Mikaela Grosso smacked a three-run inside-the-park home run to make it a 7-1 game.
“They’re a well-coached team and they’ve got a lot of good players,” Tutalo said. “Once they had us down, they kept pouring it on.”
Johnston started to get back into the game in the top of the third. Tessa Centracchio hit a single to center and Lauren Barnes followed with a bomb down the right-field line. Centracchio had held up at first, but took off just in time, and she raced all the way home with Barnes on her heels. Barnes scored just ahead of the throw home for a two-run inside-the-park home run.
“I love to see that,” Tutalo said. “Lauren Barnes had a couple of hits and a home run. Arianna had a triple. Danielle Gawlik was on base a couple of times. Offensively, I wasn’t disappointed. I expect us to put up five or six runs a game.”
Johnston pitcher Amanda Colombo kept it a 7-3 game with a quick one-two-three third inning. But soon enough, West Warwick was pulling away.
The Wizards scored a run in the fourth on an RBI triple by Gough then added three in the fifth thanks to hits by Valerie Kiers, Brittany Gough, Kat Palmer and Kayla Rutter.
Trailing 11-3, Johnston pushed a run across in the sixth when Caffeso tripled and scored on a groundout by Alysha Zalewski.
But that would be the Panthers’ last charge. In the bottom of the sixth, West Warwick scored three more runs to invoke the mercy rule.
“You can’t give up 13 or 14 runs and win,” Tutalo said. “It’s not going to happen.”
The loss was the second in a row for the Panthers, who had beaten Classical 9-1 last Wednesday for their second win of the year. Third-place Pilgrim handed Johnston a loss on Saturday, and the second-place Wizards had too much on Tuesday.
With the season just past the halfway point, the Panthers aren’t out of the playoff hunt, but they know they need to hit their stride quickly.
“We’ve got to take it one step at a time and try to get on track,” Tutalo said. “We’ll make whatever moves are necessary to try to light a spark under the team. We’re not out of the playoff chase yet. We just have to win most of our games to get there, so we still have something to fight for.”
Johnston returns to action for a home game on Saturday night at 7 p.m. against Tolman. The Tigers are 10-1 and leading Division II-East.