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HS SOFTBALL: West rides pitching, defense to win

By Jeff Sowa
Niagara Gazette

GRAND ISLAND — Tuesday’s Niagara Frontier League softball contest between Kenmore West and Grand Island featured a duel between two of the league’s top pitchers — the Blue Devils’ Lexi Santa Maria and the Vikings’ Emily Thompson. With a stellar defensive effort backing her, Santa Maria staved off an early scare to win the battle and catapult West to a 5-2 win.

With the Blue Devils (6-3 NFL) holding a 1-0 advantage in the bottom of the second, LeAnna Kozlowski of the Vikings (5-4) led off the inning by smoking a chopper back up the middle that took one bounce off the infield dirt before hitting Santa Maria hard in the right hip. After taking a few practice pitches to make sure she would be able to continue, Santa Maria shrugged off the pain to retire the next three batters, two of whom went down on strikes. She finished with six strikeouts in her complete-game victory.

“Despite the injury, Lexi managed to come back and have a great game by keeping Grand Island off-balance the rest of the way,” West coach Matt Chimera said.

On the opposite side, Thompson also went the distance, giving up eight hits and striking out four.

In the fourth inning, the Blue Devil bats woke up.

With runners on second and third and one out, Maggie Ryan delivered a liner off Thompson’s glove that plated Lauren Czarniak and put West up 2-0. Following a fielder’s choice RBI off the bat of Jessica Lauck, the Blue Devils took a 5-0 advantage after Heather Wheeler and Chelsea Moore drove in back-to-back runs.

“It was good to get that inning,” Chimera said. “It gave Lexi some breathing room and allowed the defense to play looser.”

It was certainly the defense that helped the visitors maintain the lead and earn the eventual win, a victory that moves West alone into second place in the NFL. The defensive highlight came in a 5-2 game in the bottom of the sixth after a Jordan Dudish RBI single in the fourth and a Kasey Sumner RBI double earlier in the sixth made the game close with the Vikes threatening with a runner on second and just one out. Kozlowski belted a fly ball to left field and Ryan chased it down for out No. 2 and fired a perfect throw to double-up Sumner at third and end the threat.

“We hit the ball hard but they made some nice plays in the field, and that was the difference,” Grand Island assistant coach Bob Simpson said.

“Plus, Lexi’s just so tough to hit — and she’s only a sophomore.”