By Matthew Mowery
FARMINGTON HILLS — Not everybody can be “Captain Hook,” like Sparky Anderson, who never blinked an eye in yanking a pitcher for a reliever.
For most others, there’s a much more thorough thought process, a more agonizing decision.
It was one Farmington Hills Mercy coach Corey Burras had to finesse his way through in the seventh inning of Game 1 of a doubleheader against rival Warren Regina on Tuesday afternoon.
With his team sitting on a 5-2 lead, Burras lifted freshman starter Kaitlyn Pallozzi after a leadoff single in the seventh, and the gamble paid off, as reliever Asia Barbato wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam with a pair of outs on the bases and a strikeout to seal a 5-3 win.
Barbato then struck out 10 and gave up just one run on five hits in the nightcap to close out a 6-1 win, and the sweep for the Marlins (8-1, 6-1 CHSL).
“A lot of factors. It is the gut feel, how the game is, where they’re at in the order, where we’re at, how our motivation is. I think for Kaitlyn, because she’s a freshman, she’ll be 14, right, like next month … she comes here, Regina is fired up. This is like that rivalry, and they’re loud. So you want her to perform, you want her to develop and grow, play under pressure. But you don’t want to ruin the experience. You don’t want her to have this team come back. Those are other factors, aside from managing the game, you kind of want to manage a young pitcher,” said Burras, who has longtime Marlins coaches Nancy Malinowski and Jerry Ashe to bounce things off in the dugout.
“And then I’m still figuring out Kaitlyn, she’s still figuring me out. But fortunately, the call was good. It was just good to salvage the game, and not put it in jeopardy. She had pitched great, and she doesn’t think about the last inning. If we were left her in and it would have been bad, you know, she would have thought ‘Oh, my first game against Regina.’ So we’re talking four years against a great team. You want to set the stage properly.”
It did close out one chapter of the rivalry, though, as the Marlins were able to honor longtime Regina softball coach Diane Laffey with a bouquet of flowers and a signed softball momento, in her last trip to Farmington Hills.
As much as she appreciated the gesture, frankly, she probably would’ve traded them for wins.
“This is the second one. We went to Algonac early on, and I’ve known Len (Perkins), who’s there, for years. And they did flowers too, but I mean, it’s nice, but I don’t want this (a farewell tour). This is for the kids. I just want the kids to play. I mean, I appreciate what they did, but it’s not (about) me,” said Laffey, who has been with Regina for 52 years as coach in basketball and softball, as well as the school’s athletic director, and will retire as the state’s all-time wins leader on the softball diamond.
Despite Pallozzi striking out 14 batters through six innings, the Saddelites were starting to time her up a bit. Sarah Essenmacher’s RBI single in the second gave Regina an early lead, then Abby Hornberger’s leadoff home run in the sixth trimmed the Mercy lead to 5-2, before the freshman could wiggle out of her own bases-loaded jam to end that frame.
When Barbato came on in the seventh, the Marlins were able to erase the lead runner with a fielder’s choice at third, then — after a bloop single loaded the bases — got the second out on a play at the plate. Adriana James singled in one run with the bases loaded, before Barbato got the last out by strikeout.
“Actually, we’ve started hitting better. Early on, we weren’t hitting anything. So this cold didn’t help us,” Laffey said, admitting her team’s less-than-pristine play contributed to the loss in Game 1. “A lot of mental stuff that just hadn’t … and you know, and we just came back from break. So yeah … we gotta build on it. We’ve got talent, we just have to take advantage.”
It was the Marlins taking advantage in Game 1, using aggressive base running to tie the game up in the bottom of the second without a hit, as Meg Kowalyk scored from third on a wild pitch. Courtesy runner Olivia McDonnell stole second in the fourth inning, then went to third on a throwing error, scoring on another throwing error on a ball hit by Meg Kowalyk. Kat Burras’ RBI groundout made it 3-1. They’d tack two more on in the fifth on a fielder’s choice by Izzy Chaput and an RBI double by Gage Lambert.
Whereas on last year’s semifinal squad, Burras could be patient and wait for the big boppers at the top of the order to roll around, this year, he may yield to his own tendency to push the envelope on the base paths to create some offense with a younger team.
“You push it, force somebody to make a play,” Burras said. “This year, you know, I still have that confidence. But I think I need to be a little bit quicker, a little bit more aggressive, and still force it and still be known as a fast team. I don’t want to have people sit and wait for us hit the ball hard. I still want to have us play aggressively. And I think that’s a key to our success. We’re young. We’re a fast team and we’re going to make you throw us out.”
The Marlins used a four-run third inning to open up an early lead in the nightcap. Sabrina Shea led off with a double and scored on an RBI single by Chaput, then Pallozzi cleaned up two runners with a triple down the right-field line, and scored on a groundout by Meg Kowalyk.
Mercy tacked on a run on a throwing error in the fourth, and another on an RBI single by Gage Lambert in the fifth.
Regina’s only run came in the sixth, when James scored from third on a wild pitch. The Saddelites left seven runners on base in the nightcap, after stranding seven in the opener, six of those in the final two innings.
The two teams will meet again at Regina on Monday, May 2.