GLOUCESTER — Facing a team for the third time in a season is always a tough challenge, but when the two rivals split the season series in very close games, the margin for error is even smaller.
NEC North champion softball Gloucester and runner-up Danvers met for the third time in the Division 2 North quarterfinals, and a lone run decided the outcome with the Fishermen coming out on top in a 1-0 game that was scoreless until the sixth inning.
Defense and pitching were outstanding for both teams with each turning three doubles plays. Winning pitcher Sydney McKay scattered four hits, two walks (one intentional) and hit a batter.
For the Falcons Alexcea Glynos was the tough luck loser, allowing a run on six hits with one walk and a strike out.
"We knew this was going to be a battle because we had played two very close games already," said Gloucester coach John Nicastro, whose team advances to the semi-final round at Martin Park in Lowell on Wednesday afternoon.
"Danvers has gotten stronger as the season went on, and I expected this to be a one or at the most two run difference. It was such a great game, and we had a roller coaster of emotion."
Unfortunately, a controversial call, or rather no clear cut signal at first base in the top of the sixth, led to confusion. It appeared Danvers had taken a 2-0 lead. DP Becky Zellin hit a slow roller down the first base line and when there was no clear safe or out sign Julia Ryan (infield single) raced home with Alex Marie (intentional walk) right behind her when the throw to third was off the mark.
But it was ruled the inning was over and the runs did not count because Zellin was the third out at first base. Danvers coach Colleen Newbury's protest fell on deaf ears.
"It is what it is and they got their run in while we didn't," said Newbury. "I knew this would be a close game. Sydney was really good, and Alexcea pitched great for us. We needed to get hits with two outs, and it didn't happen."
On three occasions the Falcons (14-8) were able to get a runner to second base, but the threats ended there.
The Fishermen (18-3) won the game in the home half of the sixth inning when No. 9 hitter Jemima Grow beat out an infield hit and pinch runner Rachel Rallo stole both second and third. With one down Ella Marshall's bunt was fielded by Glynos, who threw to catcher Kayla Robinson, but Rallo slid in safely.
"Rallo is so fast; she stole third without a throw," said Nicastro. "We like to use her as a courtesy runner, but didn't want to waste her. There weren't many runners on base in this game.
"This was a fun game to watch; two good teams from the NEC battling. Alexcea pitched an awesome game. When she misses the pitch is so close she gets you chasing. I know a lot of the Danvers players, and I feel bad because this was a game nobody deserved to lose.
Down to their last three outs, the Falcons got the tying run on base when Anna Lowd beat out an infield hit, but Kaleigh Walsh hit a liner to shortstop that Marshall caught and fired to first to double up Lowd. McKay got the next batter to ground out to end the game.
"Our practices leading up to this game were awesome," said Newbury. "It's been a fun season. Even though we didn't score a lot of runs the girls worked hard. Our conference was really good this year with Gloucester, Beverly, and Peabody."
Robinson and Zellin had the other hits for the Falcons while Maddie Machado had two hits for Gloucester including a booming triple. Grow added two infield hits, and Tracy Wood hit safely.
Danvers turned double plays to get out of trouble in the second, third, and fourth innings, taking advantage of aggressive base running by the home team which resulted in run downs. But while the earlier attempts failed, Nicastro kept his team running, and it paid off when Rallo scored the winning run.