By Dan Pompili
As the sixth inning of Thursday’s game opened, the Mathews High softball team had its fans believing they’d soon be out of the cold rain.
But the Bristol Panthers didn’t seem to mind the weather. They tied the game to keep Mathews out in the cold for four more innings before the Mustangs claimed a 4-3 victory in a crucial Northeastern Athletic Conference game.
“It feels good; you want to be in the driver’s seat instead of being behind, you know, trying to catch somebody,” said Mustangs coach Jim Nicula. “But it’s [the league title] probably gonna come down to a battle with us later on.”
In a game with conference leadership on the line, Mathews’ Tabby Granelly set the tone early with a solo home run to left field.
The Panthers responded in the top of the second. Mathews pitcher Cheyenne Eggens hit Kylie Stoneman with a pitch and two sacrifice flies by the Slusher sisters, Ashlyn and Lauren, put Stoneman on third base. Steffanlee Markowitz drove in the run to tie the game.
In the bottom of the third, Mathews’ Maddie Williams warmed fans’ hearts and hands as they applauded a two-run homer over the center field fence, and the Mustangs claimed their 3-1 lead.
The fourth and fifth innings offered some dramatic play despite the cold driving rain.
But the teams merely battled to a stalemate until Lindsey Elza stepped to the plate for Bristol and sent a fly ball deep to right field for a triple in the top of the sixth. Laurin Elza followed up with a double that sent her sister home and put her in scoring position. One batter later, Ashlyn followed with a single that sent Elza home thanks to an error.
A double play at first and second ended the inning but the damage was done.
Four full innings’ worth of cold, wet, scoreless play followed with the game tied at three.
Ashlyn Slusher, the unbeaten freshman pitcher, dueled with Eggens in a trench battle. At game’s end, Slusher had eight strikeouts to Eggens’ five. But the Mustangs would not be denied control of the league on their own field and their bats beat Slusher when it counted.
The bottom of the 10th inning began with a Maddi Grimes walk. Granelly built momentum with a single to center field, and Williams loaded the bases with a shot to left, leaving Jessica Marsico with a chance to play the heroine.
She answered in fine fashion, sending a low line drive past second base into center field. Bristol couldn’t get defenders to the ball fast enough to stop Grimes from crossing the plate to end the game and give Mathews leadership of the NAC.
“Great game. Our girls have nothing to be ashamed of,” said Bristol coach Debbie Rowles. “Considering the conditions we played under, it was a good game.”