ONEIDA – Entering the bottom of the ninth inning and mired in a 6-6 tie with Whitesboro, Oneida’s Bri Laureti and Sydney Lusher were a combined 0-for-7 at the plate.
That didn’t faze the Indians’ duo as Laureti started things with a hard-hit infield single to lead off the inning and came around to score the winning run on Lusher’s walk-off single to center field that gave Oneida a hard-fought 7-6 victory in Monday’s Tri Valley League clash.
“She was in same position yesterday and had winning run on third base and didn’t get her in,” Oneida head coach Mike Curro said of Lusher. “My advice to her was your failures yesterday lead to today’s success. And this time she came through.”
Emily Marshall and Kaylin Curro had three hits apiece for Oneida (6-0, 12-2). Senior Abby Carroll came up with two hits and drove home the tying run in the sixth for the Indians, who pushed their amazing TVL win streak to 49 games, with their last loss coming in the 2014 opener at Whitesboro.
Caitlin Reilly had two doubles and scored twice, and Hannah Horan had a two-run double in the sixth for the Warriors (6-1, 10-3), who came oh so close to getting a huge victory as well as ending Oneida’s streak.
“I was hoping we had it,” Horan said of gaining the 6-4 lead. “It was a back-and-forth game and I knew they’d come back. I think we played as hard as we could.”
Both teams entered the game with unblemished league records and are two of the favorites to challenge for sectional titles – Oneida (Class B) and Whitesboro (Class A). The Indians and Warriors feature strong lineups and true aces in the circle as Oneida junior Kyra Shlotzhauer and Whitesboro sophomore Caitlin Reilly are two of the best pitchers in Section 3.
The game didn’t disappoint as there were six lead changes and several clutch plays by both squads.
Oneida struck early to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the first as Curro reached on an infield single. Curro then used her wheels to manufacture the run. The eighth-grader stole second and scored on a two-base error as the Warriors didn’t cover second on the steal and catcher Hailey Hunter’s throw bounced past center fielder Olivia Simone.
The Warriors had trouble handling Shlotzhauer early, as Oneida’s ace mixed in a nice change-up to go along with her fastball to retire the first six batters.
Whitesboro’s powerful lineup got things going in the third inning as Nina Felitto led things off with a single to right-center and Reilly drove a double down the right-field line to put base runners at second and third with nobody out. After a strikeout, Whitesboro loaded the bases on Sarah Hovey’s walk.
Shlotzhauer could’ve got out of the inning unscathed, but her own mental error extended the inning as Chloe Weller bounced a one-hopper back to the circle for what should’ve been an inning-ending double play. Instead of immediately coming home, Shlotzhauer initially looked to second base before getting the force at home.
With the bases still loaded with two outs, Simone drew her first of two walks on the day to tie things at 1-1. The Indians compounded that mistake by making another as a wild pitch brought home Hovey for a 2-1 Whitesboro lead.
“Whitesboro is a good team, but we are a bit fatigued,” Curro said of his team playing five games in three days. “Poor Kyra has pitched every inning and they were intense games.”
The Warriors returned the favor by giving away two unearned runs in the bottom half of the inning. Lauren Skibitski reached on a two-out throwing error by Reilly. After Curro bunted for a single and Laureti walked to load the bases, Shlotzhauer helped her own cause by driving a double to right-center. Skibitski and Curro easily scored, but Skibitiski was gunned down at the plate to keep Oneida’s lead at 3-2 after three innings.
Whitesboro knotted the game in the top of the fifth as Reilly belted her second double, moved to third on Hunter’s groundout, and then scored on Hovey’s groundout to short.
The momentum turned back to the Indians in the bottom of the inning as Skibitski led off with a double down the left-field line and scored on a two-out error as a fly ball deflected off right fielder’s Weller’s glove.
“It was a good game,” Whitesboro head coach Aaron Cirasuolo said. “When you play at team like (Oneida) you have to play close to flawless. We had a couple of hiccups and they cost us. We still could’ve won and it does prove we can play with anyone.”
Whitesboro didn’t let the unearned run get them down as they rallied for three runs in the top of the sixth. Simone led off with a walk, and after a strikeout, Sierra Crouch reached on a perfectly-placed infield single before Horan gave the Warriors a 5-4 lead by lacing a double down the left-field line.
Oneida’s usually solid defense, once again failed them as catcher Reilly White’s throw back to the circle missed its mark and Horan charged in for Whitesboro’s sixth run.
Trailing 6-4, the Indians, as most good teams do, answered the bell. This time the bottom of the order led the way as Marshall lined a single to right and scored on White’s triple down the right-field line to make it 6-5. Carroll then drove home the tying run with a hard single up the middle.
“I was trying to hit it hard on the ground,” Carroll said. “Stay on top and drive it. That’s what I tried to do. It was pretty big. We want to go for another TVL title. (The Warriors) are a very good team and it’s very nice to get the win.”
Shlotzhauer finished with eight strikeouts and cruised through the final few innings, retiring the final 11 Whitesboro batters.
Meanwhile, Reilly (seven strikeouts) had to battle to pitch her way out of jams in the seventh and eighth innings to extend the game before Laureti and Lusher ended things in the bottom of the ninth. To start the inning, Laureti rocketed a liner just over Reilly’s head. Reilly instinctively stuck out her throwing hand and it bounced for an infield single. Reilly was temporarily shaken up, but gutted it out.
With the winning run on base, Shlotzhauer surprised by laying down a sacrifice bunt with two strikes to move Laureti to second. With one out, Lusher ended it by sending a hard single up the middle for the game-winner.
“I just try to wipe it off and know my teammates have my back,” Lusher said of having a short memory and staying relaxed. “I knew there was just one out and if I got out my teammates would pick me up. It felt great and I knew Bri would score.”
To reach their goals this season, both teams will have to be better defensively. The Indians and Warriors weren’t particularly sharp in the field as errors extended innings and allowed several unearned runs to cross the plate.
“Whitesboro’s defense wasn’t very good and we made some uncharacteristic mistakes,” Curro said. “It wasn’t a clean softball game. If Whitesboro makes the plays they beat us last year and they probably beat us this year. I was worried about Whitesboro and I’m glad we are past them. They are a good hitting team and Reilly does a nice job locating. It usually takes us a few innings against her. They have a good chance in Class A and could be tough for J-D (Jamesville-DeWitt).”
Both head coaches loved the fight their teams showed in such an intense, meaningful game. Each team responded after poor plays and fought until the final pitch.
“This group battles back,” Curro said. “It’s a really special, gritty group.”
Another positive for the Warriors is the impending return of junior slugger Madison Cieslak, who has yet to play this season after dislocating her knee in practice. Cieslak, one of Whitesboro’s best players, is due to return later this week, bolstering Whitesboro’s chances for a sectional title.
“The thing about this team is we always battle and our girls never give up,” Cirasuolo said. “Getting Maddie back we’re looking forward to sectionals and making a run.”
Oneida 7, Whitesboro 6
Whitesboro 002 013 000—6 5 5
Oneida 102 012 001—7 14 2
W: Kyra Shlotzhauer. L: Caitlin Reilly . 2B: Whitesboro, Reilly (2); Hannah Horan. Oneida, Lauren Skibitski, Shlotzhauer. 3B: Oneida, Reilly White.
Records: Oneida 6-0, 12-2; Whitesboro 6-1, 10-3.
For a complete gallery of images from this event visit www.PhotosAtTheGame.Com