Freeport baseball, softball teams adept at late-inning heroics this season

Tuesday, April 24, 2018 | 11:36 PM

Freeport is developing something of an inside joke in its softball dugout.

Early deficit? No biggie. The Yellowjackets will make up for it later.

Overcome enough leads, as Freeport is showing an affinity for this season, and teams tend to build confidence that they can continue to do so. And while they certainly wouldn't mind playing with the lead, they don't fear playing from behind.

“None of us really take (the joking) seriously because ideally, we don't want to wait until the sixth or seventh inning,” senior Ashleigh Schmidt said. “Just being that it's happened so many times and kind of in the same fashion, it's kind of funny.”

Freeport is proving the adage of better late than never in baseball and softball this spring. The baseball team, in first-place team in Section 1-4A with an 8-0 overall and section record, has three comebacks to its credit; the softball team, 7-0 with a 5-0 record in Section 1-3A, has four.

“We've had a quiet confidence all year,” Freeport baseball coach Ed Carr said. “We try to play loose. We try to remind ourselves that game to game, it's only one game, and it is a game. We're having fun in the dugout, and we're having fun with each other. I think the key to our resilience is we stay calm. We don't let things snowball on us.”

The Freeport softball team came into 2018 with several returning starters from last season, when the Yellowjackets reached the WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals, and many of them had multiple years of experience at varsity.

Almost immediately, Freeport showed its mettle, scoring six times in the bottom of the sixth inning of a 9-5, come-from-behind victory over section rival South Allegheny on April 10.

“Knowing that we can do it and have done it before, it kind of boosts us,” Schmidt said. “We know we can do it, and we can do it well. That definitely plays a part in our success, and knowing we can do it and build off it and get better.”

Freeport's trick was even more difficult against Burrell on April 11. Trailing 6-0 entering the top of the seventh, the Yellowjackets scored eight runs in their final at-bat and then got the three outs they needed in the bottom of the inning to stun the rival Bucs.

That win looks pivotal thus far, with Burrell (6-2, 5-1) nipping at Freeport's heels in the section standings. And the Yellowjackets capped that week by beating Deer Lakes, 10-4, with a six-run sixth again making the difference.

“You always tell them the game's not over. There's 21 outs, and you also tell them there's no time on the clock. It's over when the 21st out is recorded,” Freeport coach Sam Ross said. “We have five seniors there, and they've been through some pretty good battles. They're just a good group of girls. There's good continuity on the team and good leadership, which you always hope for.”

While the Freeport softball team banked on its experience, the baseball team needed some unsung heroes to step up after losing several significant pieces from its 2017 playoff team.

The Yellowjackets, who keep a stuffed rabbit in their dugout for good luck, are pulling metaphorical rabbits out of their hats. They trailed defending section champion Knoch, 3-0, heading to the seventh inning last week. A five-run seventh gave Freeport the victory.

The team's past two games also came down to the wire: a 7-6, eight-inning win over Highlands, and a 7-6 win over Greensburg Salem on Monday in which Freeport overcame a 4-0 first-inning deficit.

“I think the key was just altogether, we just feel we're never out of a game,” senior Brodey Cowan said. “We've been in that position before, and we're resilient.”

Carr said some of his team's 15 players bounce between junior varsity and varsity, but the Yellowjackets are making it work. Against Knoch, good late-game at-bats helped the rally succeed.

“We just stuck with the plan,” Carr said. “We didn't panic.”

That ability to stay calm might prove pivotal as the teams progress toward the playoffs. Pressure amps up in the postseason, but the Yellowjackets are showing the ability to rise to the occasion.

“That's the character of the team, and that's what we're going to go with,” Ross said. “They've been through battles before, and they don't like to lose. They don't give up easy.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.


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