By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- For six innings, Mariah Foltz was flawless.
The Broadway pitcher had dominated Central's lineup, allowing no runs, no hits and only four batters to even reach base. She was three outs from tossing a no-hitter.
Then came the final inning.
After failing to register a hit against Foltz through the first six innings, Central's offense finally broke through in the seventh as shortstop Sarah Mastrangelo scored the winning run off a Brea Hinegardner triple, lifting the Falcons to a thrilling 1-0 victory on Thursday.
"Well, I knew when Sarah got on base I needed to do my job to advance her," an ecstatic Hinegardner said after the game. "I needed to at least advance her. The ultimate goal was to get her home. I had been in a slump, too, so that's why I'm so excited. I finally got my touch back -- which is a good feeling -- but I knew I had to get my job done because Sarah got her's done."
The late-inning heroics by Hinegardner may have stolen the show, but it was her pitching duel with Foltz that paved the way for the memorable finish.
Both pitchers controlled the other team's offense from the opening pitch, as Foltz notched four strikeouts through two innings while Hinegardner kept pace with three. The Gobblers (3-1) got their first hit in the top of the second inning as second baseman Heather Bagwell singled, then moved to third base on a throwing error by the Falcons (1-1). Hinegardner was unfazed, however, as she got the next three batters out, leaving Bagwell stranded at third.
Foltz was equally impressive. After the first two batters reached, center fielder Allie Lockhart on a walk and first baseman Tyler Cooper on a fielder's choice, Foltz shut down Central's offense by retiring 13 consecutive batters to take her no-hitter deep into the fifth inning.
"Mariah's just a freshman," Broadway coach Becky Cantrell said. "She did a whale of a job pitching. This is actually the first fast pitching we've seen all year, so we knew coming in that we were going to be a little slow on the bat and we just couldn't get two hits together. The one nice shot we had to center just didn't fall, but that's how it goes sometimes."
The scoreless duel continued into the top of the seventh. Foltz was still clinging to a no-hitter, while Hinegardner was holding onto a three-hit shutout. The Gobblers threatened in the final frame, however, as catcher Mandy Hodges singled with one out to put the go-ahead run on base. After Broadway's Heather Cantrell popped out to the mound, Hinegardner picked up her seventh strikeout of the game, getting leadoff hitter Jerica McCallister to watch a called third strike, once again leaving the runner stranded on base.
With one final chance to win in regulation, Mastrangelo stepped to the plate for the Falcons, hoping merely to reach base and give her team an opportunity for the victory. At the same time, a slight drizzle began to fall and, as if the scene needed any more dramatics, the weather insisted this would likely be Central's final shot to end the game.
Mastrangelo wasted no time. At the first offering from Foltz, she dug her left foot into the dirt and swung. The ball darted through a gap between first and second base, breaking up Foltz's no-hitter and putting herself 260 feet away from home plate.
With her teammate on first, Hinegardner stepped into the batter's box and blasted the first pitch from Foltz into left field. It rolled past the shortstop, then slipped past the left fielder before stopping at the wall. As Mastrangelo headed for third, coach Jill Yew couldn't motion fast enough, waving her arms frantically, screaming for Mastrangelo to head home.
By the time the ball was back in the infield, the outcome had already been decided. Mastrangelo touched home, as Hinegardner pulled up with a triple.
As the Falcons celebrated on the field, the Broadway players retreated to the visitor's dugout, dejected and defeated. In a game that looked as if the Falcons might fall by the way of Hinegardner's arm, it was her bat that saved the day.
"They played a great game, both teams," Yew said. "We had some things happen, but then we had some fantastic plays in the field as well. And I told them, 'Just keep swinging, just keep swinging, don't give up.' When we scrimmaged Warren County the first game, we struck out a lot and we struck out looking. I told them, 'You've got to be aggressive, bottom line. You can't stand there and watch the strikes go by and expect to get hits,' so it was a great all-around team effort."