Swinging first powered Nichols to its first Monsignor Martin softball championship.
Regular season champion Sacred Heart showed up Wednesday at West Seneca’s Sunshine Park having won 26 straight league games but Nichols dominated the early action on its way to a 12-4 win.
As Nichols took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning, Sacred Heart coach Karen Conway said she got a sinking feeling that this was going to be the day the streak ended.
“I must be a barometer,” she said. “I can just feel the pressure in the air. The winds changed and I just didn’t feel them swinging back in our direction.”
Nichols tacked on four more runs in the third inning and three more in the fourth, chasing Sacred Heart’s star pitcher, Maria Gabriele, and putting a mercy rule victory in play before the Sharks broke the shutout in the bottom of the fifth.
And after surrendering a four-run lead in the regular season meeting, Nichols stood up to Sacred Heart’s late rally and avenged last season’s title game loss.
“We set goals at the beginning of the year that we wanted to make it back to this game and win,” winning pitcher Elizabeth Bourne said. “It means a lot. We all worked really hard as a team together and we got better as the season went on.”
“We were the underdogs forever and a lot of people were cheering for us knowing that Sacred Heart has been undefeated for so long,” said sophomore Jessica Gates, who had two RBIs. “We were pumped.”
Ashley Lyman led the offensive onslaught, going 5 for 5 with a home run and three RBIs.
“She’s awesome,” Nichols coach Holly Fewkes said. “She got Player of the Year in the league. We didn’t tell her she received it. And she played every minute as the Player of the Year today. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
Madison Welch added three hits, while Olivia Zafuto and Bourne each had two.
“We wanted to prove that last season wasn’t just a fluke,” Fewkes said. “Three or four years ago we were at the bottom of the league, struggling to be the eighth seed. This program has come a long way with people who are committed to it and a lot more people who enjoy softball, who love the game, who play softball outside of school and it’s been awesome to witness.”
Nichols (15-3) will now advance to the state Catholic playoffs Tuesday at Queens College.
St. Bonaventure-bound Kelly Farrell had three hits, a home run and three RBI for Sacred Heart (15-1).