MALTA — Just seconds apart, Tuesday’s Section II Class AA softball semifinal games finished up on neighboring fields at Luther Forest Athletic Fields.
On one, top-seeded Shenendehowa clinched its latest spot in a championship game with a 5-4 comeback win against Ballston Spa.
On the other?
Something a bit different.
Saratoga Springs, a seventh seed that entered Tuesday’s matchup with a .500 record, recorded its latest upset victory as it continued an unlikely march to the program’s first area championship game appearance since 2006. With a 5-3 victory against Columbia, Saratoga Springs earned its spot in Thursday’s 5 p.m. final against its archrival.
“It’s been insane,” said Saratoga Springs freshman pitcher Jackie Cutting after her team’s latest postseason triumph. “Every game has started with feeling nervous — really nervous — and, then, you get into it, and it’s just been completely fun.”
Cutting, who started her spring season playing JV softball, struck out three batters in pitching all seven innings for head coach Geoff Loiacono’s team. Saratoga Springs never trailed in the contest and never relinquished its lead after scoring three runs in the second inning, a frame highlighted with a two-RBI single from Maddy Vaughn.
“These kids deserve it. They’ve worked their tails off, day in and day out. We’ve had our ups and downs this season, but these guys are competitors. They grind it out. They work. They overcome adversity — and they’ve really come to play the last three games.”
Saratoga Springs defeated 10th-seeded Niskayuna 5-0 in the first round, then topped second-seeded Bethlehem 4-1 before finding its way past Columbia. Cutting credited the club’s recent strong play to its team-first attitude.
“We’ve screamed our heads off [cheering]. The past few games, we’ve been loud every single inning,” Cutting said. “I honestly think that’s what is causing us to win.”
While Saratoga Springs (No. 7, 12-11) never trailed in its semifinal against Columbia (No. 3, 12-8), Shenendehowa (No. 1, 16-3) needed a four-run rally in the fifth inning to get past Ballston Spa (No. 4, 12-10) in its playoff game. Ballston Spa scored a run in each of the game’s first three innings and led 3-1 before the Plainsmen’s four-run inning that included an RBI bunt from Emily Baumes, a game-tying RBI walk from Kelly Powell, a go-ahead RBI sacrifice fly from Kelsey Higgins and an RBI single from Jada Lambright.
“We needed everybody to win,” Shenendehowa head coach Chris Farquharson said. “We knew Ballston Spa had good players, that they’re tough and that they’re going to make you earn everything.”
That proved correct right to the end of the contest for head coach Amanda Fifield’s team. Ballston Spa scored a run in the top of the seventh to cut Shenendehowa’s lead to 5-4, but Plainsmen pitcher Becca Zawistowski got the game’s final out with a Ballston Spa runner on third base.
“We just had to focus on [the batter] and keep our composure,” said Zawistowski, who struck out four batters in the complete-game win for the area’s defending Class AA champions.
For Ballston Spa, Maggie Lyon and Allison Piscitelli each had two hits and scored a run, while Madelyn Perrone had a hit and two RBIs. Lambright finished with two hits for Shenendehowa, and Lauren Bieniek had Shenendehowa’s second-inning RBI.
Shenendehowa defeated Saratoga Springs 6-3 during the regular season, and Farquharson said he knows Loiacono’s team will be ready to seek its latest postseason upset when the rivals meet in Thursday’s final.
“He’s got his kids believing and they’ve got a lot of energy,” Farquharson said.
Against Columbia, Saratoga Springs received three RBIs from Vaughn, one from Bella LaNate and another from Sarah Decker. Karley Austin and Natalie Conroy each had two hits, while Ellie Ripchick’s double started off the Blue Streaks’ three-run second inning.
Saratoga Springs showed toughness in the fifth inning when Columbia loaded the bases with no out. Columbia was able to score two runs, but Cutting was able to preserve a 4-3 lead before the Blue Streaks added their final run in the next frame.
Loiacono said the team’s postseason run has already exceeded his “wildest dreams,” but also that his “team of competitors” will be ready to chase after another postseason victory on Thursday.
“They,” Loiacono said, “are ready to win.”
SECTION II CLASS AA SOFTBALL SEMIFINALS
SHENENDEHOWA 5, BALLSTON SPA 4
Ballston Spa 111 000 1 — 4 9 3
Shenendehowa 010 040 x — 5 4 0
SARATOGA SPRINGS 5, COLUMBIA 3
Saratoga 030 101 0 — 5
Columbia 001 020 0 — 3