Brandywine Heights rallies to beat Newport, advances to District 3 Class 2A softball final

Nearly a year ago, Brandywine Heights let a two-run lead slip away in the district final and ultimately fell to Newport by three runs.

Looking to avenge the loss that lived in their memory for the past 12 months, it was the Bullets that found themselves trailing by two runs after 4½ innings in their rematch with the Buffaloes on Thursday night.

This time, Brandywine Heights remained calm and collected.

“They weren’t intimidated by the circumstances or the pitcher,” Bullets coach Don Roach said. “They got into the box and they just put the bat on the ball.”

The No. 2 seed Bullets exploded for four runs in the fifth and one in the sixth to complete the comeback victory and beat No. 3 seed Newport 8-5 in a District 3 Class 2A softball semifinal at Lyons Field to clinch a berth in the final.

“It means a whole lot,” Roach said about returning to the championship game. “The girls have been talking about this because they were so disappointed that they lost in the district final last year.”

Brandywine Heights left fielder Christina Schuster after recording the final out on Thursday night. (COURTESY OF BILL SNOOK)

Trailing 5-3, Brandywine Heights (10-11) loaded the bases before pitcher Elyse Stufflet delivered a two-run single, scoring left fielder Christina Schuster and courtesy runner Janelle Roa to tie the game.

The Bullets took the lead during the next at-bat with a perfectly executed safety squeeze, as second baseman Alyssa Bortz laid down the bunt and first baseman Jenna Christ scooted home to make it 6-5.

Catcher Emma Lukenich continued the rally with an RBI double, which scored Roa to make it 7-5. Lukenich finished 3-for-3 with two doubles, a triple and three RBIs.

“Coming into this game, I was excited,” Lukenich said. “It could be my last game of my senior year, so I was just ready to perform for my family and my friends and my team.”

Brandywine Heights senior Emma Lukenich (COURTESY OF BILL SNOOK)

The Bullets scored an insurance run in the sixth, as an RBI single from Schuster brought right fielder Charlotte Ronco home to make it 8-5.

“Consistently throughout the season, we’ve been hitting in groups, in clusters,” Roach said. “When we do that, we just score and score.”

Brandywine Heights’ four-run rally in the fifth and its additional run in the sixth was enough to change the momentum after an up-and-down start to the game for the Bullets.

Stufflet gave Brandywine Heights a 1-0 lead in the first with an RBI single before Lukenich made it 3-0 with a two-run triple. At the plate, Stufflet finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs.

The Buffaloes (10-9) responded in the fourth, as pitcher Megan Foltz hit an RBI triple before coming home on a Bullets’ error to cut the lead to 3-2. In the circle, Foltz allowed eight runs in six innings and took the loss.

Newport took the lead in the top of the fifth, as left fielder Gracyn Shutt scored on an RBI groundout from right fielder Jordin Briggs to tie it 3-3.

First baseman Natalie McNaughtan gave the Buffaloes the lead three batters later with a two-run single to make it 5-3. McNaughtan finished with two hits.

After allowing five runs, three of which were earned, over two innings, Stufflet rebounded for Brandywine Heights and threw two scoreless innings. In seven innings, Stufflet allowed seven hits and struck out two.

“She gutted it out,” Roach said. “She worked hard. She is really determined to do the best she possibly can.”

And for Stufflet and her senior teammates, having another opportunity to win a district title is everything.

“We (almost) had it last year, and we want it really bad,” Stufflet said. “We’re going back and we’re going to get it.”

Brandywine Heights will take on top-seeded Delone Catholic in the final on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined. The Squirettes beat No. 4 seed Fairfield 8-1 in a semifinal on Tuesday.

“I think they’re going to be fired up,” Roach said about his players. “I think they’re going to be ready to play, and I think it’s going to be a good game.”