By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
AUSTINTOWN -- After losing 20 more games than her team won in 2004, Fitch senior softball pitcher Jen Purnell is the first to admit she hasn't experienced many important victories in her four-year varsity career.
Today, she has a memory that the Falcons won't forget.
Trailing 4-0 to Boardman, a team the Falcons haven't beaten since the late '90s, Fitch (5-4, 3-4 Federal League) rallied for a 5-4 victory in eight innings in Tuesday's chilly rain.
"It's really awesome," freshman Kate Furee said after her bottom-of-the-eighth inning single scored pinch runner Brittany Ellis. "We came out from a 1-21 season and now we're 5-4. It's just awesome."
Facing Spartans senior Ashley DiDomenico, Furee said she wasn't looking for anything special.
"All I wanted to do was make contact," Furee said. "She's one of the best."
Another freshman, Sarah Convery, led off the eighth inning with an eight-pitch at-bat against DiDomenico, drawing a walk. Senior Bre Alleman grounded out, advancing Ellis to second base.
Melody Rice, who grew up in Boardman and played for Spartans coach Bill Amero, is the Falcons' varsity coach after serving as junior varsity coach last year.
Purnell (5-4), who scattered six hits, said the Falcons are no longer interested in the recent past.
"All the other years are behind us," Purnell said. "This is a new year, a new coach and a new program, and the team is nothing like it was in the past."
So what's the difference?
"We have a whole new attitude and a winning mentality," Purnell said. "And we don't play as a group of individuals -- we play as a team."
Purnell said she's never experienced a better varsity moment than when Ellis scored.
"In my four years, we haven't won a sectional game or beaten a big rival," said Purnell, who said she challenged her teammates when they fell behind. "I told them we can't lay down after four runs. They stepped up, they did it."
Trailing 4-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning, Furee tripled and scored on Purnell's two-out single.
An inning later, junior Nicole Smaldino reached base on an error and senior Andrea Lucente got on after a fielder's choice. They scored on a groundout and fielder's choice.
The Falcons tied the game in the seventh inning when sophomore Jessica Reigrut walked, Purnell singled and Stacy Balkan reached on an error.
An alert play by Spartans senior shortstop Emily Hays forced extra innings. With one out, Falcons junior Kara Warren hit a ground ball to Hays who threw home to sophomore catcher Addie Carothers to retire courtesy runner Becca Evans.
The Spartans (9-6, 3-2 Federal) squandered scoring opportunities in the first three innings before taking a 1-0 lead after three walks and Jocelyn Hudak's sacrifice fly.
The Spartans pounced for three more runs in the fifth inning After DiDomenico walked, sophomore Danielle Burin reached on a bunt single and advanced on an error. DiDomenico scored on a wild pitch and Burin came home on a groundout.
Hays reached on an error and scored after another wild pitch and senior Holly Holman's two-out single.
"My bad," Purnell said of the Spartans' runs. "They watched us fall apart, but we watched them fall apart more later."
DiDomenico gave up five hits and struck out five batters.