Much like the airplanes that buzzed overhead during Thunder over Louisville, the Charlestown softball team flew past the competition to take the championship of the Providence Invitational.
The Pirates delivered a five-run first inning — highlighted by a two-run home run by Sarah Willenger — and then hung on to beat the tournament host Pioneers 6-5 on Saturday. Charlestown rolled past Crawford County 11-0 earlier in the day to advance to the title game.
“it was nice to get a tournament like this early in the season,” said Charlestown coach Kevin Zollman. “This was a great tournament for us. We saw teams of our caliber. These girls played hard all day.”
Providence, which advanced to the finals by holding on 11-9 against West Washington, saw problems on the mound lead to the early deficit. Starter Sierra Collett was chased after facing the first nine hitters. She gave up four runs, hit two batters and saw a run score on an illegal pitch, where umpires ruled both of her feet had left the mound during a delivery.
“Sierra is our ace,” Providence coach Sean Payne said. “We are rehabbing an injury with her and she is on a very limited pitch count. I saw her stretching after every pitch during warmups and I should have paid attention, so that was on me.”
McKenzie Smith led off the opening salvo with a walk and then moved to second on a perfectly-laid bunt single by Leah Sherrill. After Charlestown pitcher Carly Price grounded out but advanced the runners, Willenger had her at-bat interrupted by the illegal pitch, which allowed each runner to advance one base, much like a balk in baseball.
Willenger wasn’t done. She took the next offering from Collett deep over the fence in right field to make it 3-0. Four batters later, Daisy Nichols drilled an RBI single of her own with runners on first and second base. Collett then hit Kaitlyn Henning to load the bases again.
That brought in Riley Lovan, who allowed a run on a wild pitch to Smith, but quickly calmed down the Pirate offense. Over the next four innings, Lovan allowed just a single Charlestown hit.
In the meantime, Providence chipped away.
The Pioneers (4-2) finally got to Price in the third frame, plating their first run on an RBI single off the bat of Jacquie Hornung. Sydney Milliner likewise scored a run with a bunt single and Charly Wolford’s grounder added a third run to make it 5-3. The Pioneers finished with 10 hits and continually managed to break through an early-season slump in the batter’s box.
“We’ve been struggling with our hitting so far,” Payne said. “We’ve been out here hitting fruit, hitting vegetables, hitting anything that would help them relax. We know it will come and today we executed pretty well when we needed to.”
Providence added a run in the fifth inning to make it 5-4, but the Pirate bats finally woke in the top of the sixth.
Lovan hit a batter and issued a walk and then saw the bases loaded with just one out after Nichols reached on an error. Zollman brought in pinch-hitter Kendall Cline, and the freshman delivered with a single to score an insurance run that the Pirates would ultimately need.
Down to its final three outs, Providence got another lift from Hornung, who blasted a ball down the right field line with one out. She ultimately advanced all the way home after a Pirate went down and couldn’t immediately recover after diving for the ball. Lillian Hughes and Milliner then hit back-to-back singles to bring the tying run into scoring position, but Price worked her way out of the jam with a strikeout and then got Karly Baumann to pop out to end it.
“Carlie pitched an outstanding game,” said Zollman, as the Pirates hoisted the tournament trophy near home plate. “This was a great learning experience for us.”
The tournament itself could just be getting started. Payne said there was a waiting list to play in the early-season event and he was looking into expanding the field to six or eight teams in the future.
CHARLESTOWN 6, PROVIDENCE 5
Charlestown 500 000 1—6 5 1
Providence 003 010 1—5 10 1
WP — Carly Price (1-0). LP — Sierra Collett. HR — Sarah Willenger.