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Ballston Spa softball wins epic semifinal, falls in state final

Ballston Spa softball wins epic semifinal, falls in state final

20-inning semifinal sets state record
Ballston Spa softball wins epic semifinal, falls in state final
Lauren Kersch pitches during Saturday's state final.
Photographer: Erica Miller

MOREAU — They gave all they had on the final day of their high school softball season.

Ballston Spa head coach Amanda Fifield expected that from her Scotties, even as the season’s final day asked more from them than anyone could have predicted.

“These girls are fighters,” Fifield said, “and I knew — even though we played essentially three games to get through one game — I knew that they could bring the energy that it took.”

In the end, Ballston Spa came up short of its ultimate goal. The Scotties fell 3-0 in Saturday’s Class A state championship game to Williamsville East, a worthy champion that finished its season with a perfect record.

“They have a lot of great players, and it showed,” said Ballston Spa senior Ange Stile, whose squad was the Class AA runner-up last season. “They played their best ball.”

But nobody played more ball Saturday than Ballston Spa at Moreau Recreational Park. To advance to Saturday’s championship game — which had its start delayed more than an hour to accommodate the Scotties — Ballston Spa displayed its grit and toughness throughout a record-setting 2-1 semifinal win against Sayville, a marathon game that finally ended when sophomore Ana Gold smacked a one-out, walk-off RBI single in the 20th inning.

No state tournament softball game had ever lasted more than 13 innings.

“I can’t even cry because it was such an unbelievable [game],” said Sayville head coach Tiffany Rowan, whose team was undefeated heading into the state semifinals. “The amount of intensity. The will to win. [My players] gave everything they had. They’re going to appreciate this real quick. They fought a fight. They can’t be upset about that.”

Gold’s hit ended a game that took three hours, 51 minutes to play — and saw Ballston Spa junior pitcher Lauren Kersch go the distance with a miraculous performance. Kersch threw 190 pitches in the contest, struck out 18 batters, walked none and allowed only an unearned run. The junior who missed all of last season with a knee injury had a perfect game through seven innings and a no-hitter into the 12th.

Then?

She pitched the championship game, too.

Kersch tossed 84 more pitches in the final, which Williamsville East grabbed control of in the fifth inning when seniors Christy Mack and Maddy Miske slugged back-to-back solo home runs. Kersch struck out eight in the championship game, allowing three earned runs in six innings against the state’s top-ranked team.

“Lauren pitched her heart out,” Fifield said of the junior who totaled 26 strikeouts, 26 innings and 274 pitches during the day's doubleheader.

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Kersch allowed she was “so exhausted” after Saturday’s action concluded. She was too nervous to eat anything of significance before Ballston Spa’s 9 a.m. semifinal started, but kept finding ways to keep Sayville from scoring.

“By the 13th inning,” Kersch said, “I just had all adrenaline.”

Several innings before that, it appeared Ballston Spa (22-4) was on the verge of seeing its season end when Sayville (Section XI, 24-1) scored a run in the eighth after a batter reached on a hit-by-pitch and scored on a subsequent throwing error. Ballston Spa was down to its final out in its half of the eighth inning before Stile — who hit a walk-off home run to win last year’s state semifinal — clubbed a game-tying home run well over the center-field fence.

“I was just trying to stay upbeat. Trust myself. Trust what I could do, and what my team gave me the opportunity to do,” said Stile, who caught all 26 innings for Kersch. “I just tried to focus and have fun with it.”

Ballston Spa and Sayville each had several scoring chances in the innings that followed, but neither team could break through until the 20th inning when Gold’s hit scored senior Megan McMahon who had singled and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt from sophomore Julia Russell.

“It was a great game played by two great teams,” Rowan said.

“But there has to be a winner at the end of the day,” Fifield said. “So however long it took, it was going to take.”

Combined between the teams, the semifinal included 452 pitches and 142 plate appearances. While Kersch pitched all 20 innings for her team, senior Maddie Recker pitched the first 14 innings for Sayville before junior Marissa Dionisio took over the in the 15th. Recker threw 180 pitches in her outing, while Dionisio tossed 82.

“Her [non-throwing] shoulder was bothering her,” Rowan said of why she removed Recker, who had surgery on that shoulder during last offseason.

For Ballston Spa, each of McMahon, Russell and Gold made nine plate appearances in the semifinal. Stile had three hits, while McMahon and Russell each had two.

“We just had to keep going. We were all tired. We were all hungry,” Gold said. “But we just wanted to win in the end and we would do anything.”

Williamsville East (Section VI, 27-0) had advanced to the championship game with a 6-0 win against Walter Panas (Section I, 16-10), and Ballston Spa could not get its bats going enough against sophomore pitcher Summer Clark who is committed to play for the University of Missouri. Clark struck out nine in shutting out Ballston Spa, which only managed two hits in the contest — a single from junior Alison Sgambati in the third inning and a two-out triple from Stile in the fourth.

“It was difficult,” McMahon said. “We were all extremely tired, but we tried to stick it out.”

“We were just trying to do our best,” Stile said.

Saturday marked the third time in the last four seasons that Ballston Spa made it to at least the state semifinals. Ballston Spa lost in the 2016 semifinals before ending as a runner-up in each of the last two seasons, finishes that will provide the Scotties with plenty of motivation moving forward.

“I just want to win that final game,” Kersch said.

For 2019, though, Ballston Spa’s last huddle came after a loss.

The message delivered in it?

“That I couldn’t be more proud of each and every one of them,” Fifield said.

IN OTHER ACTION 

Ichabod Crane’s Class B state championship defense closed in the semifinals with a 6-5 loss to Section III’s Ardsley, which later won the state title. Ichabod Crane led 3-1 after five innings, but a five-run sixth inning put Ardsley in control.

Ichabod Crane’s season ended at 22-2.

CLASS A SEMIFINAL
BALLSTON SPA 2, SAYVILLE 1 (20)

Sayville 000 000 010 000 000 000 00 — 1 7 6
Ballston Spa 000 000 010 000 000 000 01 — 2 11 1

CLASS A CHAMPIONSHIP
WILLIAMSVILLE EAST 3, BALLSTON SPA 0

Ballston Spa 000 000 0 — 0 2 0
Williamsville East 000 021 X — 3 4 0

CLASS B SEMIFINAL
ARDSLEY 6, ICHABOD CRANE 5

Ardsley    000 105 1 — 6 6 2
Ichabod Crane    200 100 2 — 5 8 2

Reach Michael Kelly at [email protected] or @ByMichaelKelly on Twitter.

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