Mike Grosodonia acknowledged the cruelty of the single-elimination tournament format, whereby all teams but one go home with a defeat.
“It’s a tough thing. You always have that speech prepared — ‘We lost that game but had a good season,'” he remarked.
However, Grosodonia never got around to using such words this post-season. That’s because the Aquinas Institute girls’ softball team, for which he serves as head coach, simply refused to lose.
The Little Irish, behind the arm and offense of its star pitcher, Bri Allen, are state champions for the first time. They concluded their remarkable post-season run by rallying past Section 2’s South Glens Falls, 5-3, in the state Class A final. The game was held June 14 at Binghamton’s Broome Community College.
The victory gave AQ a final season record of 28-2 and came against a Bulldog team that was the defending state champion and hadn’t lost in some 45 games dating back to last year.
Allen pitched a complete game and also provided a three-run triple in the fourth inning of the championship contest. Earlier that day, she threw a one-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts as AQ won 4-0 over East Hampton of Section 11 in state semifinal action.
Grosodonia said he wasn’t worried about Allen’s ability to pitch back-to-back games on the same day, saying she’s done it several times in the past.
“She’s a gamer. She never would tell me if she’s tired or not; even if her arm was falling off she wouldn’t tell me. I never saw a girl who wanted it so badly,” he said.
The AQ defense had a rare letdown in the first inning against South Glens Falls, committing three errors to fall behind 2-0.
“It’s hard keeping yourself up emotionally for two games,” Allen said. “I felt like at the start of the (title) game, we were dead emotionally. But after those two runs (against us), we got pumped up. Usually pitchers don’t talk to the teammates, but I was being very vocal.”
A third-inning double by Caileen Sennett and RBI single by Jessica Stahl made the score 2-1.
“Once we scored that first run, that energized everybody. We played a great second half of that game,” Grosodonia said.
The Little Irish went on top with a four-run fourth inning thanks to Allen’s big base-clearing hit, and held on from there. Allen, a .300 hitter, said she was a bit surprised that she ended up delivering the key blow.
“I get more nervous about hitting than pitching,” she said.
Yet this wasn’t the first time Allen had produced a big hit in the state tournament. On June 10 she drove in Morgan Lindauer in the second inning of a 1-0 quarterfinal win over Williamsville East of Section 6, also pitching a four-hitter for the shutout.
Allen observed that the Little Irish entered the state tournament battle-ready, thanks to some closely fought victories en route to the Section 5 Class A championship.
“I felt like after we won sectionals, we could do anything,” she said. “I said every day, ‘I don’t want anything more than the state championship.'”
Grosodonia agreed that the sky was the limit for his gritty veteran group.
“We have seven seniors who all start and are very competitive; they have a championship-type attitude. So the state title is something I knew they could do,” he said.
The victory over South Glens Falls enabled the softball program to take its place alongside several other Little Irish sports teams that have brought state trophies back to the school in recent years.
“This puts a spring sport like softball on the map for Aquinas,” Grosodonia said.
And, it provided a moment far more pleasurable than making condolence speeches to his players.
“For me, watching them jump around the field and enjoy the victory was what I really savored,” he said. “It’s great for them and I’m excited for them. It’s the greatest thing — you’re in the ultimate game and you’re able to win it.”
This story was updated on June 18, 2008.