AFTON _ Some daring baserunning and the play of two youngsters on the mend from back injuries led Afton to a dramatic, 2-1, softball victory over Midstate Athletic Conference rival Deposit on Wednesday.
Chasity Eckert used her speed to produce the tying run in the sixth inning and Harley Jennings caught the Lumberjackets off guard in the seventh, taking an extra base on a triple that led to the winning run.
Equally important to the Crimson Knights on this gorgeous spring day were the contributions from freshman pitcher Payton Cutting and eighth-grader Cassidy Phillips.
Cutting settled down after a shaky first inning, scattering eight hits while striking out six and walking none. A year ago, Cutting had her season cut short, suffering a broken back after falling off a ropes course at school just before sectionals started.
Phillips followed Cutting into the circle last season and won three games, including a 4-0 victory over Deposit that clinched Afton's 16th straight Section Four Class D title.
But Phillips broke her back six weeks ago and had one at-bat this season before stepping in with runners on first and third and no outs in the seventh. Still, Phillips drove a 1-0 pitch from Justina Ellis into the gap in right-center to score Jennings with the winning run.
"I was just trying to make contact," said Phillips, who laid down a bunt earlier this week in a victory over Unatego on Monday. "I was really scared because it was my second at-bat of the season. My back was broken for six weeks. I got a stress fracture from overuse from pitching. I wore a back brace for six weeks."
During Afton's run of sectional success that started in 1995, aggressive baserunning as always been a Crimson Knights trademark.
Wednesday was no different.
Trailing, 1-0, in the sixth inning, Eckert lined an opposite-field single to left-center to lead off. After Cutting flied out, Eckert took second on a passed ball. Kate Werth followed with a grounder to shortstop Hannah Freyer as Eckert took off for third. Freyer made an accurate throw to third baseman Mackenzie Martin, but Eckert slid in under the tag.
After Werth stole second, Stacey Goukas hit a grounder to third. Martin looked Eckert back, but as soon as Martin readied to throw to first, Eckert started for home. Martin got the out at first and first baseman Darsey Raymond threw home. Eckert made a head-first slide to the back of portion of the plate, avoiding the tag of Shelby Petersen to tie the score.
"We were aggressive and it paid off," Afton coach Cindy Bostelman said.
It appeared Deposit (14-2, 8-2) would re-take the lead when No. 9 hitter Victoria Schaub led off the seventh with a triple to left. Left fielder Brit Moore charged the sinking liner, but it skimmed off her glove and rolled to the fence.
Then Cutting got Martin on a groundout to first, Hannah Freyer on a popout to second and Tiffany Raymond on a grounder to first to strand Schaub at third.
"We're right there," said Deposit coach Ed Swartwout, whose team has lost to Afton in the last three sectional finals. "We're knocking on the door. I just said to the kids, 'Today, they were victorious, but if we play them 10 times, I like our chances to come out (on top) six or seven times.'"
Jennings hit the first pitch from Ellis to dead center in the seventh. Center fielder Jenn Newman froze for a moment before the ball sailed over her and one-hopped the fence. It appeared to be a garden-variety double, but Jennings never slowed when she reached second. Shortstop Freyer took the relay throw as Jennings rounded second but held onto the ball. By the time she realized Jennings was headed to third, she hurried her throw and it got past Martin. Deposit had the throw backed up and Jennings remained at third.
"We didn't communicate with her that the runner was going from second to third," Swartwout said.
Added Cutting: "It was amazing. Gutsy, but that's Harley. She'll take chances, but they pay off."
Pinch-hitter Sayde Gaydorus followed with a slap hit to Martin at third. Rather than throw to first, Martin held onto it.
That set up Phillips' winning hit.
"It's like nothing else. It's so great," Cutting said of the come-from-behind victory.
In the first inning, Cutting allowed a leadoff double to Martin to left. One batter later, Tiffany Raymond lined a shot down the left-field line. Moore got there in time, but the ball deflected off of her glove for an error as Martin scored.
The Lumberjacks had runners on base in all but one inning but couldn't convert after the first inning. Cutting struck out Tiffany Raymond with runners on first and third to end the fifth inning, and struck out Ellis with runners on first and third to end the sixth.
"It's always nice to get the first strike," Bostelman said of the victory. "There's always a chance of three (games against Deposit) and at least two."
Afton (10-2, 9-1) currently has the second seed in the MAC and Deposit is third, so it's likely the teams will meet Monday at Afton in a MAC semifinal. Greene, which is unbeaten in MAC play, has the top seed and will play the fourth seed _ at this moment, Bainbridge-Guilford _ Monday.
Afton 2, Deposit 1
Deposit 100 000 0 _ 1 8 0
Afton 000 001 1 _ 2 9 1
Justina Ellis (L) and Shelby Petersen. Payton Cutting (W) and Taylor Briggs. 2B _ Mackenzie Martin (D), Brit Patten (A). 3B _ Victoria Schaub (D), Harley Jennings (A).
Rob Centorani can be reached at email@example.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.