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Red Hawks win 13-inning marathon, 2-0

THORNDIKE — It took Frontier Regional School 12 innings to get three hits against Palmer High School’s Nicole Handzel.

Things were vastly different in the 13th inning.

The sixth-seeded Red Hawks smacked out three hits, including Caitlin Sullivan’s two-run double to account for the game’s only runs as they went on to knock off the third-seeded Panthers, 2-0, in a Western Massachusetts Division II Softball Tournament quarterfinal marathon Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s pitching and defense that get you there, and it’s timely hitting that wins the game,” said Frontier head coach Carrie Fydenkevez.

Frontier (16-6) won’t have much time to enjoy the triumph — it heads right to Sortino Field at UMass this afternoon at 5 to take on second-seeded Wahconah Regional High School (19-2).

The Warriors beat the Red Hawks, 4-3, in their regular-season meeting.

Handzel had the upper hand on Frontier’s hitters all day long, allowing two infield singles and a blooper while striking out 12 batters over the first dozen innings.

Frontier suddenly broke out of its game-long slump in the 13th, and did it in a big way.

Ally Hamelin (2-for-5) started things with a flare to center that dropped in. Then McKayla Poissant followed with a line single to center, moving pinch-runner Mindy Esposito to second. After Courtney Newsome popped out to shortstop, Sullivan belted a towering shot to the left-center field gap, scoring Esposito and Poissant to break the deadlock that had lasted for more than 2 1/2 hours.

Handzel got out of it by getting Hannah Adams and Amanda Robinson to fly out, but Frontier had enough for winning pitcher Krystel Enko, who retired the side in order on a groundout, a strikeout and a popup to end the 2-hour, 44-minute contest.

Palmer (17-4), meanwhile, did everything to give the game away, most notably in the third. Nicole Reil walked, then on Kristen Oliviera’s sacrifice bunt inexplicably tried to go to third and was easily gunned down by Robinson during the 1-4-5 double play.

The play is sure to come under even more scrutiny, because fifth hitter Savannah Cavanaugh followed that by blasting a triple to deep left field. Alyssa Darling then popped out to first to end the rally.

In the fifth, the Panthers had a golden opportunity to get on the board when Summer Cavanaugh ripped a leadoff double to the right-center-field gap. Handzel struck out on three failed sacrifice bunt attempts, then Canyon Pierce appeared to reach on a sacrifice bunt when she wound up beating the throw. But assistant coach Dan Gavin protested that the ball touched Pierce’s bat in fair territory, and after a 10-minute delay, the umpires ruled that the ball struck the bat. Pierce was ruled out and Cavanaugh was sent back to third. Palmer head coach John Czaja appeared ready to protest the game but the umps consulted a rule book before upholding their original ruling.

Enko fanned Alyssa Jasak for the final out.

Another questionable sequence by Palmer came in the ninth. Reil again drew a leadoff walk before Emily Czaja flew out to right. Savannah Cavanaugh — who already doubled and tripled in her first two at-bats — came up and sacrificed Reil to third. Enko took advantage of the gift out and got Darling to ground out to end that threat.

Enko and Newsome both had solid days for the Red Hawks. Enko struck out 11, walked three and surrendered only five hits —none after the seventh. She also retired the last 15 batters she faced. Newsome played flawlessly behind the plate and threw out two runners trying to steal.

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