Xavier Prep and Gilbert Perry have developed a strong athletic rivalry in many sports, including basketball, volleyball, beach volleyball and soccer.
And you can now add softball to the mix after a hotly contested game at Perry on Tuesday (March 30) as the game went two extra innings beyond the scoreless first seven and Xavier won it with three runs in the top of the ninth, 3-1.
Yet it was how the contest reached that point that caused flushed faces and hair to stand up on the back of necks.
It was a game in which Xavier Head Coach Brad Downes and his assistants became litiGators, pleading their case in the bottom of the eighth inning after a confusing hit by pitch call nearly handed Perry the win and XCP its first loss of the season.
Xavier had a good chance to take the lead in the top of the eighth, but a courtesy runner was caught off third base for the final out following a line drive to left field.
In its half of the eighth, Perry loaded the bases with two outs against Xavier ace Riley Flynn. It appeared to be make or break time for the Pumas.
Perry batter Natalya Delsante stood in against Flynn. There was one strike against Delsante when an inside pitch grazed the pants leg of the batter. The batter pointed to where it had made contact and the plate umpire stopped play.
The Perry bench and the team’s fans began to rejoice at the run about to be forced in. But Downes and the Xavier coaches were not too thrilled by the turn of events. Downes began an animated discussion with the umpire, contending that the umpire called strike two before the batter was hit, therefore by rule making the ball a dead ball and that the batter should return to continue the at-bat.
The umpire then conferred with the base umpire and, according to Downes, admitted that he indeed called the second strike first and brought everyone back out on the field to resume play, negating a score at least for the moment.
Soon after, the inning was put to rest after Flynn struck out Delsante for her 18th strikeout of the game. That only caused the Perry Nation’s blood pressure to boil.
The best way for the Gators to expedite their departure from the premises was to score some runs.
That came in short order when Xavier scored its three ninth-inning runs.
Junior shortstop Bridget Donahey led things off by getting under a pitch and sending it high into the air and over the left-field fence for a home run. Senior catcher Macy Lee brought home the second run with a single to right following a triple by freshman Lauren Putz.
That hit brought Perry coach Rob Hehe out to remove pitcher Autumn Kunze, who to that point had matched Flynn virtually pitch for pitch. Junior Meghan Schouten then singled off the reliever to score the third run.
Noelle Gumm led off the Perry ninth with a homer off Flynn, the first run that Flynn surrendered in Xavier’s first five games. Sarah Phillips then doubled with one out, but Flynn retired the next two batters to end it.
“This was an exciting game for sure,’’ Downes said.
“When that call (hit by pitch) happened, I went out to let the umpires know our side of things, went over the rules with them (umpires). Fortunately, we were able to continue playing.
“Something like this takes some time. The girls were basically standing around, not knowing, waiting . . . they dealt with the adversity well. That says a lot about their character.’’
Of the Gators’ hitting outburst in the ninth, Downes referred to his team’s prolific hitting tendencies and said, “It’s hard to keep our girls down for that long.’’
And that was partly why Downes went over to the Perry side of the field afterward in a show of good sportsmanship, sought out Kunze and told her how impressed he was with her pitching.
Because of the Easter holiday, this was the last game for this week. The Gators will return to the field on April 6 for a contest at Petznick Field against Chandler Hamilton.