Bethlehem was all but through to the state semifinals Friday.
But everything the Lady Eagles did right in the first 4 1⁄2 innings went for nothing as Section III champ Liverpool got off the deck and rallied for an 8-7, eight-inning win in a Class AA regional championship game at Malta Rec.
Eighth-grader Jenna Wike’s two-out RBI single in the bottom of the eighth capped the Lady Warriors’ rally from a 7-0 deficit. It also left the Bethlehem players stunned as they trudged back to their dugout for the final time this season.
“You have to play hard for seven innings in order to close out a game like this,” said Bethlehem coach Karen Gentile, whose team beat the top two seeds — Shenendehowa and Columbia — to win its first Section II title since 2011. “You don’t get here by accident. You don’t win 21 or 22 games, whatever they did, for giving up when you’re playing a tough team.
“Liverpool is a great team. My hat is off to them. They did not give up, even being down, 5-0, 7-0.”
The Section III champions — designated the home team by a coin flip — started to get untracked by scoring three sixth-inning runs with two out.
“We’re still up 7-1, 7-3, and Emma [Downing] was pitching well. It was our game to lose,” said Gentile.
“We hit the ball pretty good, For whatever reason, we just didn’t start well,” Liverpool coach Nick Spataro said. “There was no panic. We said, ‘Let’s just get a couple runs and see what happens.’ ”
Bethlehem wasted a chance in the sixth, when Downing and catcher Kaitlyn Rarick led off with singles. A ground out moved the runners up a base, but Liverpool came up with its best defensive play by turning a 6-3-2 double play, cutting Downing down at home.
“A couple more timely hits, and we could have broken this way open. It didn’t happen,” said Gentile. “But seven runs, you think it’s safe.”
With one out in the sixth, Downing walked two straight hitters, and both would scored as Liverpool made it 7-5.
Gentile replaced Downing with senior Megan Sullivan to start the last of the seventh, but had to bring Downing back to the circle when Sullivan walked the first two hitters she faced. Of course, both would score, tying the game.
“Emma struggled a little bit there at the end. I thought she could settle down and get those last couple outs in the sixth inning. Megan Sullivan has been a stalwart in the program for four years, and she deserved the chance to finish out the game.
“She couldn’t find the strike zone, We put Emma back in, and she got out of it.”
Bethlehem went down in order in the top of the eighth, and Downing got the first two Lady Warriors on fly balls in the home eighth.
Sullivan dropped a fly ball for a two-base error, and Gentile had Downing walked Liverpool cleanup hitter Payton Bellrose intentionally.
Charles then delivered the hit that put her team in next Saturday’s state semifinals, and ended Bethlehem’s season.
“We put her behind the big girl [Bellrose] because teams will pitch around Bellrose, but they don’t know what they’re getting into,” Spataro said. “She’s as calm as they come.”
The Liverpool comeback spoiled great days for Bethlehem shortstop Carrie Maniccia and center fielder K.K. Palmerino. Maniccia went 4-for-4 and drove in three runs. She led off the game with a double.
Palmerino ended the Liverpool fifth and sixth. She threw a runner out at home to end the fifth, and made a diving, tumbling catch for the third out in the sixth.
“Unless you’re a state champ, your season ends with a loss,” said Gentile. “But that loss is more difficult the further you go. We thought we had this game.”
Fort Ann beat Crown Point (Section VII), 19-0, at SUNY-Plattsburgh for its fourth straight regional championship.
Troy (Class A), Mechanicville (Class B) and Greenwich (Class C) play for regional titles today. Troy and Greenwich both play at 4:30 at Malta Rec. Mechanicville plays at SUNY-Potsdam
Bethlehem 140 020 00 — 7 15 2
Liverpool 000 032 21 — 8 10 2
Downing, Sullivan (7), Downing (7) and Rarick; Nicoletti, Bellrose (2) and Cerrone.