MALTA — Saratoga Springs had another Section II postseason upset left in it.
And this one was the most unlikely of them all.
Somehow, seventh-seeded Saratoga Springs found a way to continue its magical postseason run, which will extend into the Class AA state tournament following a 6-4 win Thursday in eight innings against rival Shenendehowa at Luther Forest Athletic Fields. Saratoga Springs was down four runs after four innings of the Section II Class AA softball championship game, but head coach Geoff Loiacono’s club never quit.
“David and Goliath, man,” Loiacono said after a victory that saw the underdog Blue Streaks score in each of the final four innings. “I mean, these kids, I would go against any team [with them]. They just don’t give up. They claw. They scratch.”
And they keep finding ways to win. Saratoga Springs entered the postseason two games under .500, then won four games in 10 days, including wins against each of the Section II Class AA postseason field’s top-three teams.
“Something within us just changed,” Saratoga Springs junior Maddy Vaughn said of the team’s postseason run. “We wanted it so badly. We wanted it for our seniors. We just wanted it as a family. We had to push through, and just something sparked in us. We were alive in the dugout more than anything, and it just worked for us. We stuck together as a family. When others were down, we picked them up. That’s something a team has to do, and it’s something that we were able to do.”
Vaughn provided one of the game’s top highlights in the top of the seventh inning. After recording a one-out double, Vaughn was still at second base after another out when freshman Jackie Cutting came to the plate. Cutting hit the ball to the right side of the infield and was able to beat the throw to first base for a single — and Vaughn never slowed down as she rounded third to score the game-tying run on the ball that never left the infield.
As she turned back toward the plate after safely reaching first base, Cutting didn’t expect to see Vaughn heading for home.
“I turned around and, ‘Boom,’ there she was,” Cutting said.
It was a tactic, though, that Saratoga Springs had practiced.
“We’ve used that play a lot this year. We practice that,” Loiacono said. “We like to go second to home. It just sort of catches teams off-guard.”
For Vaughn, though, there must’ve been some nerves with trying such a play in a season-on-the-line scenario, right?
“No, not at all,” Vaughn said. “I just knew I had to do it — and there was no turning back once I was already around third.”
Shenendehowa had the potential game-winning run to third base in the bottom of the seventh inning with one out, but Cutting — who started her 2022 season on Saratoga Springs’ JV squad — worked out of the jam to send the game to extra innings. Cutting caught a line drive to record the final out of the seventh inning.
“We just couldn’t get that last hit,” Shenendehowa head coach Chris Farquharson said.
In the eighth inning, Saratoga Springs (No. 7, 13-11) wasted little time pushing ahead of Shenendehowa (No. 1, 16-4) for its first lead of the game. In an inning that saw Shenendehowa commit three errors, Saratoga Springs loaded the bases with its first three batters, then scored on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Kira Taber and when Vaughn was hit by a pitch to force in a run. Natalia Colone reached on a single for Shenendehowa in the home half of the eighth inning to allow the Plainsmen to twice bring the tying run to the plate, but Cutting retired both batters with flyouts.
While Saratoga Springs played Thursday in its first area final since it lost in 2006 to Shenendehowa, the Plainsmen were attempting to defend the area title they won last year with a victory against Bethlehem. Thursday’s contest marked Shenendehowa’s 18th appearance in a Section II title game, while Saratoga Springs’ victory netted the program its third area championship in 13 appearances. Saratoga Springs had last won a Section II championship in 2000, a win that capped a seven-season run that saw the Blue Streaks play for an area title each year.
Saratoga Springs advanced to Thursday’s final with a 5-0 win against No. 10 Niskayuna in the first round, a 4-1 win against No. 2 Bethlehem in the quarterfinals and a 5-3 semifinal win against No. 3 Columbia.
Meanwhile, Shenendehowa had survived a scare in the semifinals. In their 5-4 win, the Plainsmen trailed fourth-seeded Ballston Spa before a four-run fifth inning, then recorded the game’s final out with a runner on third base. In the quarterfinals, Shenendehowa topped eighth-seeded Shaker 4-1.
On Thursday, Shenendehowa appeared ready to cruise to a championship win. The Plainsmen scored a run in each of the game’s first four innings, but Saratoga Springs rallied together in an on-field huddle prior to the fifth.
“We just said, ‘We’ve wanted this for so long. This isn’t happening right now. We have to get our energy up, we have to stay together and we’ve got to do this,’” Vaughn said. “From there, we just got louder — and stuff started going our way.”
“The first couple innings were a little rough, but they never gave up,” Loiacono said.
Mackenzie Waghorn walked with the bases loaded to score Saratoga Springs’ first run in the fifth inning, then Cutting had an RBI single. The next inning, Saratoga Springs scored on a ball that Bella Labate put into play, then Vaughn scored the game-tying run in the seventh on her dash from second base.
Shenendehowa had defeated Saratoga Springs 6-3 in the teams’ regular-season matchup. In that game, Shenendehowa led 6-0 before Saratoga Springs scored three runs in the seventh inning and had the bases loaded when the Plainsmen recorded the final out.
In the rematch, Cutting allowed two earned runs and struck out four batters in the complete-game pitching effort, and joined teammates Karley Austin and Sarah Decker in recording two hits. Cutting had two RBIs and Olivia Tetreault scored two runs.
For Shenendehowa, Becca Zawistowski had three hits, and Emily Baumes and Lauren Bieniek each had two. Zawistowski pitched all eight innings for Shenendehowa, and struck out four batters while allowing three earned runs.
Farquharson praised his club for a “great season” after the season-ending defeat.
“I’m thrilled with how my girls gave it 110% today,” Farquharson said.
Saratoga Springs’ surprising postseason run will continue with a June 4 game against a Section III program for a regional championship. That contest will take place at Luther Forest Athletic Fields.
After Thursday’s final out, Saratoga Springs joyously celebrated on the infield. Vaughn said she “felt a rush of energy, like something I’ve never felt before,” when the Blue Streaks recorded the championship-winning out.
“This is everything I’ve ever wanted, and everything these girls wanted,” Vaughn said. “It felt so good to celebrate as a family.”
Saratoga Springs 000 021 12 — 6 9 3
Shenendehowa 111 100 00 — 4 10 4