Defending champs lose to Bethlehem early in quarterfinals

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Spread wings: Taylor Tewksbury winds up to deliver a pitch for Guilderland during last Friday’s Class AA quarterfinal at home against Bethlehem. Tewksbury, who pitched five innings, retired the first nine Eagles’ batters, but then Bethlehem went on to score four runs in the fifth inning on its way to a 5-to-4 victory. The Dutch were defending champions.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Queen of the Nile: As the defending Class AA softball champion, Guilderland went down to Bethlehem at home last Friday in the quarterfinals, 5 to 4. Here, Dutch senior Tori Greco throws to first base from second base during the game.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

No look bare hand: Doris Kane looks toward first base from third while fielding the ball for Guilderland during last Friday’s Class AA quarterfinal. The Dutch lost to Bethlehem, 5 to 4.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Get a grip: Guilderland short stop Torie Rathwell gets ready to throw the ball to first base during the Class AA quarterfinals last Friday in Guilderland. The Dutch lost to Bethlehem, 5 to 4, and the Eagles scored two runs in the fifth inning after Rathwell made a throwing error.

GUILDERLAND — Repeating as Class AA softball champions was definitely possible for Guilderland this season, and the team had that conversation early on, Head Coach Lou Marino said, but that’s no longer feasible after a suspenseful home loss to Bethlehem in the quarterfinals last Friday.

“They knew what they had to do,” Marino said after the 5-to-4 defeat. “They’re seasoned vets that know how to win, so, of course, they’re super hungry. They fought to the very end.”

After coming back from a 5-to-1 deficit in the sixth inning to close the Eagles’ lead to one run, the Dutch had a chance to tie or win the game in the bottom of the seventh. Lisa Topaltzas did her job, and reached first base with a bunt single.

Meagan Sullivan was able to get both Tori Greco and Mackenzie Lozano to pop out, so that left Guilderland’s heroics up to senior catcher Gabby Marino. She hit the ball to deep left center field.

Bethlehem center fielder K.K. Palmerino had a bead on the ball, and made the catch while simultaneously running into her teammate from left field. There was a moment of confusion for the crowd and the players, not knowing if the final out had been made, but Palmerino got up and started to celebrate.

Guilderland had beaten Bethlehem for the Class AA title in 2013, and won both regular-season meetings in 2014. In the second game this season, the Dutch had won the game off of a home run to the exact same spot Marino had hit the ball last Friday, Palmerino said.

“I knew it; that ball wasn’t going over that fence,” said Palmerino. “I knew I had to catch it; no way it’s happening again.”

If Palmerino hadn’t secured the catch, Topaltzas most likely would have scored, and it would have been a totally different ball game.

“It wasn’t a possibility,” Palmerino exclaimed. “It was right at impact; I put two hands on the glove, and she ran right into me, but we got the out.”

Coach Marino said that his daughter’s hit would have been 30 feet over the fence if there were no wind, which was swirling throughout the game.

“I knew it was going to be a battle, and it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season,” said Marino. “It was a great game, and you know it’s going to be close in sectionals because everyone steps up their game. What are you going to do?”

Guilderland had Bethlehem’s number in recent years. Back in 2012, at Bethlehem, the Dutch won a quarterfinal game after scoring 10 unanswered runs in one inning.

“No team wants to play us, and that’s why the celebration is so extravagant over there,” Marino said after the game as the Bethlehem crowd went wild. “Beating us is a big deal. A very big deal.”

Palmerino wasn’t able to play in the 2013 championship game; she was injured, but winning at Guilderland last Friday gave Bethlehem some relief, and even more joy.

“This is awesome, amazing, and it’s so early on in the playoffs…I’m really pumped,” said Palmerino. “We have all our fans here; we love them all. It’s very, very fun times.”

Guilderland senior pitcher Taylor Tewksbury had a strong start to the game, retiring the first nine Bethlehem batters in a row. Also, the Dutch scored a run in the bottom of the first inning.

However, Carrie Naniccia reached second base to lead off the fourth inning for Bethlehem after a throwing error to first base, and she eventually scored off a single by Emma Downing. The Eagles scored four runs in the fifth inning on three singles, a sacrifice fly, a wild pitch by Tewksbury, and a costly throwing error by Guidlerland’s Torie Rathwell, which resulted in two runs.

“Once we got down, we really stepped it up,” Gabby Marino said of Guilderland’s come back in the sixth inning last Friday. “It’s upsetting to lose because we wanted to finish it out, but we had a good game overall. We’re an awesome team.”

Anyone who has watched the Dutch play softball over the last few years knows that the team is never done until the final out.

“Every single game, they fight hard and never give up,” Palmerino said of Guilderland. “They go out to the bottom of the seventh inning every time, and we knew if we didn’t fight our hardest that we could lose the game.”

The Dutch recovered, responded, but fell short. Coach Marino could still say that Guilderland had a great season, and that he “couldn’t be happier.”

On the other hand, the Dutch really wanted another championship, Gabby Marino said.

“But, it’s one game at a time,” she concluded. “Sadly, it didn’t happen, but we still wanted it. That was our goal from the beginning.”

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