JOHNSTOWN - The players and coaches of the Johnstown and Mayfield softball teams did not know exactly what to expect when they took to the diamond Friday afternoon at Johnstown High School.
It was the first game of the season for both squads with very limited time outside their respective gyms.
Mayfield banked on the senior leadership of veteran pitcher Anna Husain. Although Husain surrendered 11 hits in the game, she came through at the plate, smashing a grand slam in the Lady Panthers six-run sixth inning to help secure the 8-7 non-league victory.
Johnstown shortstop Morgan Colasanti, right, dives while trying to tag Mayfield's Lisa Hime as she slides into second base during Friday's non-league game at Johnstown High School. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)
"I was definitely pleased with everything," first year varsity coach Jamie Hurd said. "This was our first time on dirt. We have practiced and scrimmaged on grass and on turf but not on actual dirt. Our first couple of batters showed some jitters but by the end of the game, we were hitting the ball better. We also had a couple of errors but this was our first time on the field. It will come."
Johnstown hitters connected for 11 singles in the season-opener and put the leadoff batter on base in four of the seven innings, but were held in check by the Lady Panthers defense coming up with timely big plays.
"We left base runners on in almost every inning. I know we left at least five on," Johnstown coach Ron Savoie said. "We are a young team as far as the number of games played on the varsity level. We didn't quit and that is a good indication of what these girls are capable of doing. We hit the ball well and that is a positive. There are a lot of positives that came out of this game. Obviously, you want to get off to a better start, but we had a chance in the end and fell just a little bit short. We had just one bad inning."
The Lady Bills (0-1) got off to a fast start.
Jordyn Hale drew a lead off walk and was safe at second on Morgan Colasanti's fielder's choice. Lexi Swatt drove in Johnstown's first run of the season with a line drive up the middle. Ellen Praught singled home Colasanti with Swatt also scoring on the play to put the Lady Bills up 3-0.
Mayfield got a run back in the top of the second when Lisa Hime drew a one-out walk, stole second and later scored on a wild pitch to put the score at 3-1.
The Lady Panthers got another run back in the top of the fourth.
Mackenzie Biggers led off with a walk and Taylor Gifford followed with a single. They advanced on Hime's ground out to the right side. Biggers crossed the plate on Jen Little's RBI single to trim the lead to one, 3-2.
The Lady Bills re-established its two-run lead in the bottom of the fourth.
Abby Ovitt led off with an opposite field single and moved to second on Lindsay Brandt's ground out. Hale drew a walk and Colasanti singled to load the bases with one out.
The Lady Panthers came up with a big play when Husain fielded a come-backer by Swatt and threw home to force Ovitt but left the bases loaded with Lady Bills and two outs. Brianna Esposito delivered Hale to the plate with her RBI single for a 4-2 lead. Husain collected an inning-ending, bases-loaded strike out to get out of the jam.
When opportunity knocked in the top of the sixth, the Lady Panthers answered.
Biggers lined a single to center field that was bobbled by Swatt. Biggers alertly kept running and wound up on third. She later scored on a wild pitch.
Gifford drew a walk, Hime singled and Jen Little reached on an error to load the bases. Caitlin Tomlinson legged out an infield hit, plating Gifford for the tying run.
Husain made the most of the bases loaded opportunity to give herself some breathing room, driving the ball past the right fielder for a grand slam and an 8-4 Mayfield lead.
"I can't say enough about our pitcher [Husain]," Hurd said. "That was her first home run let alone a grand slam."
It did not take Johnstown long to respond.
Hale reached on a throwing error by Husain and advanced to third to lead off the bottom of the sixth. Colasanti walked and stole second putting runners on second and third with no outs.
The Lady Panthers came up with a big play when second baseman Maria Messina leaped to snag a line drive off the bat of Swatt and threw to second before Colasanti could get back to the base for a double play.
The Lady bills kept battling as Esposito followed the play with an RBI single and Alyssa Palmateer reached on an error. Both runners advanced on a passed ball and Praught drove them in with a 2 RBI single to cut the lead to 8-7.
Mayfield threatened again in the top of the seventh when Gifford reached on a throwing error and bunted over to second by Hime. Heather Geier hit a ground ball to the right side that Hale fielded and threw to Praught at first for the put out. Praught alertly threw the ball across the diamond to third baseman Lindsay Brandt who put the tag on Gifford for the inning-ending double play.
Johnstown put the potential tying run on base when Hale legged out an infield single with two outs, but was forced at second for the final out of the game.
Husain finished with seven strikeouts and allowed 11 hits and four walks in the circle for Mayfield, while going 2-for-3 at the plate with a grand slam, single, four RBIs and a run scored. Jen Little had an RBI single, while Nicole Little, Biggers, Gifford and Hime all singled.
Esposito finished with three singles and an RBI for Johnstown, while Praught had two singles and an RBI and Colasanti had two singles.
Hale, the Lady Bills' leadoff hitter, reached base in four of her five plate appearances with two walks, an error and a single leading to three runs scored. Swatt, Ovitt and Brandt all contributed singles to Johnstown's 11-hit performance.
"We hit the ball well today against a quality pitcher," Savoie said. "This was a good game to see where we are at. Honestly, I didn't know what to expect. I thought we could play with them, which we did. As long as we can be competitive and have a shot that is all I can ask for. It was not a badly played game. Alyssa [pitcher Alyssa Palmateer] will learn. It is just unfortunate the way it finished. Today is the first time she has actually been able to pitch out of the circle. All we can do is come back on Monday, forget about this game and move ahead."
The Lady Bills will travel to play Amsterdam in a non-league game on Monday before hosting Gloversville in their Foothills Council opener under the lights at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Johnstown High School
Mayfield will open Western Athletic Conference play Monday at home against Berne-Knox-Westerlo.
Mayfield 8, Johnstown 7
Mayfield010 106 0 - 8 7 3
Johnstown300 103 0 - 7 11 4
Husain and J. Little; Palmateer and Esposito.