STRATFORD >> Becca Tillotson has already won one state championship while a member of the Masuk softball team. Her run in the bottom of the seventh inning on Tuesday gave her a chance for title No. 2.
Tillotson, a senior, scored the winning run on an error to lift the second-seeded Panthers to a 7-6 victory over No. 6 Foran in the Class L semifinals at DeLuca Field.
When Tillotson was a freshman, Masuk defeated Foran to win Class L in 2013. That game also ended on a walk-off in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be back since I was there my freshman year with a few of the girls,” Tillotson said. “But, I couldn’t have done it without my team. They hit really well, and we played defense really well. They were also the ones that were able to get me across at home.”
The Panthers (20-5) will play Fitch in the championship this weekend. Masuk is making its sixth trip to a state final. The Panthers are 4-1 in title games. This is the first appearance in a championship game for Masuk coach Leigh Barone, who’s in her second season with the Panthers.
“It’s very meaningful,” Barone said. “I have five great senior leaders. We’re a different team this year than we were last year, so it’s good to see their growth the last two years.”
Tillotson walked to lead off the bottom of the seventh. She went to second on a sacrifice bunt and to third on a passed ball. The throw to third following the passed ball sailed high and into the outfield, allowing Tillotson to score the winning run. Foran (19-6) made four errors in total on the day.
“It definitely makes it an uphill battle when we’re making mistakes,” Foran first-year coach Steph Dawid said. “But I think we battled back as much as we could have. I think we really fought and we didn’t let those errors get us down. That kept us in the game. Our resilience was awesome today.”
It was an up-and-down affair for each team throughout.
Trailing 3-1, the Lions scored three times in the fifth, highlighted by Kayla Gosselin’s RBI double to take a 4-3 lead.
An RBI ground out by Alexa Bacoulis and two errors that led to two runs gave the Panthers a 6-4 lead after five innings.
Foran tied the game at 6 on a run-scoring single by Caitlyn Parisi and on a squeeze bunt by Amanda Mendillo in the sixth.
“We’ve been in that spot before,” Tillotson said. “So, we have good mentality, and we knew we had to stay up. No one was ever down. We kept our heads up and knew that we could bounce back and get those runs back.”
Foran collected nine hits off Masuk freshman pitcher Sam Schiebe, who walked eight and struck out five. Natalia Hart, Parisi, Gosselin and Brittney Baker each had two hits for the Lions. Alexa James had an RBI single to give the Lions a 1-0 lead in the second inning.
Schiebe walked the bases loaded with two outs in the seventh but Hart hit a grounder back to Schiebe, who threw home to get the force for the final out of the inning.
“It’s incredibly important (to execute),” Dawid said. “Those missed opportunities are what makes or breaks a one-run game. But, it’s a game of inches and seconds, and that’s what it came down to.”
Freshman Makenna Prete allowed eight hits, one walk and did not strike out a batter.
Ali Lichvar had two hits, including a solo home run in the fourth for Masuk. Maggie Lebinski hit a two-run home run in the third for the Panthers.
“We have pitchers that are going to get hit,” Dawid said. “We have to be strong behind each pitcher that we have. When we’re not, it definitely poses a problem for us.”
MASUK 7, FORAN 6
Foran 010 032 0 — 6 9 4
Masuk 002 130 1 — 7 8 1
Makenna Prete and Kayla Gosselin; Sam Schiebe and Erica Pullen.
WP: Sam Schiebe. LP: Makenna Prete. 2B: (FO) Natalia Hart, Kayla Gosselin. Hr: Maggie Lebinski, Ali Lichvar (MK); RBI: Parisi, Mendillo, James (FO); Lebinski (2), Alexa Bacoulis, Lichvar (MK);
Team records: Foran 19-6; Masuk 21-4.