By JOHN ANDERSON, photos by TRICIA DAVENPORT
Sometimes, a run to a state championship just happens.
But most times, your program has to make steps each year to get to that point.
For the Wellsville Lions softball program, that is what is happening.
After being synonymous with victories and sectional titles under late coach Frank Cady, the program is back to having that reputation as champions.
Last year, Wellsville softball took the next step to the far west regionals. This year, they put their hat in the ring to reach the state final four.
On Friday, Wellsville (21-2) was not satisfied after a tough 3-2 loss to Section IX champion Marlboro. The final run crossed in the bottom of the seventh.
But something else happened. A lot of tears. You see this often when seniors realize it’s over, their last game. The other players usually show emotion for a minute and pack up, knowing they have more games ahead. The entire Wellsville team was stunned and in tears.
And they only had one senior, Emma Dunaway.
It was a tough pill to swallow as you look back at situations and plays. But the bottom line was, Marlboro had one more hit, one more run and the Lions defense and pitching of Makenzie Cowburn helped strand EIGHT Marlboro runners on base over the course of six innings until the seventh.
“Wellsville softball, we compete. And that’s what these young ladies did for seven innings today,” Wellsville coach Matt Burke said. “My heart goes out to them.”
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Burke was impressed with the way the young Lions never showed fear on defense, never looked rattled at the plate, whether it was an 0-2 count or two outs.
“Hats off to Marlboro, they are in the state finals for a reason … they made plays,” said Wellsville coach Matt Burke. “I’m proud of our kids. They didn’t show any fear of the game today. They came out and they did their best and that’s all we ask. It’s tough to lose like this … I’m heartbroken for the kids because their hearts are into softball and I just wanted one more game for them.”
Marlboro lost to Ichabod Crane (23-1), 7-0, in the state finals. Wellsville had incredible Section V title game win over Bath, 3-2. The Lions also had incredible statement wins in playoffs. There was a 15-0 semi-final win over Penn Yan, a 15-0 win over Class B1 Batavia in the crossover game and a 15-5 win over Section VI champion Iroquois in the Far West Regionals.
“Everybody on this team really wanted to play one more game and it just didn’t happen. We had some opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them,” Burke continued.” We had them scouted well. We knew what they could do and what they struggled with, we just came up one run short.”
Burke brings up his hat off to Marlboro.
But there was another hat.
Michael Cady and the Cady family donated Frank Cady’s hat to the team to carry through the post-season run. When Cady was the coach, the team reached the far west regionals and lost. Then the state final four. Cady retired and the program was never on solid ground with six head coaches in a six-year span.
However, during that six-year span, the youth program called the Diamond Dawgs started and was solid. The feeder program won a tournament less than 24 hours after the state semi-final loss.
The game was a tough one.
Marlboro’s Ella Leduc and Kalista Birkenstock each had two hits. Birkenstock, a speedy junior, singled in the seventh, stole second and scored on a bunt for the winning run.
In the first inning Wellsville made a statement when Cowburn struck out two of the first three batters. In the top of the second, Dunbar crushed the solo home run to center that went out so fast the fielders never moved.
In the top of the third, Natalie Adams led off with a bunt so perfect the pitcher could only field it. Averee Palmitier then crushed a double.
Marlboro hit a two-out triple in the bottom of the third, but Cowburn struck out the final out and yelled in emphatic style with the statement K.
In the bottom of the fourth, Marlboro cut the lead to 2-1 on a sacrifice fly.
That’s when the play of the game to this point was made. The game could have been broken wide open. However, with one out, a line drive up the middle looked like it would plate the tying run, but Adams made a sprinting catch and never stopped running as she beat the runner back to second for the unassisted double play.
In the bottom of the fifth, a walk and a bunt put a runner on second. Cowburn got a strikeout and then an intentional walk set up a two-out force. Cowburn didn’t need it. She struck out the final batter to end the threat and keep the score 2-1 after five.
Sophomore Natalie Adams had two hits and a run while sophomore Averee Palmatier continued to crush the ball with two hits including a double. Sawyer Burke had the other Wellsville RBI. Junior Marissa Ordway also had a hit for Wellsville.
Burke and the program have made it a season to remember for Dunaway as she graduates. There was the senior night and she was named Section V MVP. But there was room for one more quote.
“Emma Dunaway, our lone senior, she will be missed,” he said. “She had an amazing season and career and we would not be where we are without her.”
Wellsville 011 000 0 — 2 6 2
Marlboro 000 101 1 — 3 7 1
Makenzie Cowburn and Brazen Beckwith
Lea Gunsett (7K, BB) and Emma Jackson
HR: Makenna Dunbar (W)
PHOTO GALLERY BY TRICIA DAVENPORT: