CORRY — The competition just gets steeper as a team progresses through the Little League All-Star tournament, but as was the case with the 11- and 12-year-old softball All-Stars this year, it seems Punxsy's squads just keep getting stronger, as well, as the 9- and 10-year-old All-Stars downed a tough Union City team in the Section 1 winners' bracket final by a score of 10-2 Wednesday to earn an always-important day off and advance to the finals.
While Punxsy put up 10 runs, Punxsy head coach Brad Gigliotti said it was the defense that stood out the most throughout the game.
"The story tonight was our defense," he said. "Our bats came alive, but we made a lot of clutch plays to get out of innings. Riley Presloid was on fire in the field and at the plate today."
Presloid made a number of good plays at second, Gigliotti said, but she also led the Punxsy squad at the plate, going 3-for-3 with a run scored.
Holly Hartman added a double and a single to go with two runs scored in the winning effort.
Kendal Johnston also performed well at the plate, going 2-for-3 and scoring two runs, and Abbi Riskus had a similar line, going 2-for-4 with two runs scored.
Elliot Ferrent, Abby Gigliotti and Allie Meko each had hits, as well.
Riskus pitched the complete game to earn the win, allowing just two runs on four hits and striking out five.
Riskus went right to work in the top of the first, walking just one but stranding her to bring Punxsy to the plate.
Punxsy wasted no time taking the lead with the help of a leadoff double by Hartman. Allie Doverspike moved her to third on a sacrifice, and Johnston plated her with an RBI single. Gigliotti picked up a single of her own, but she and Johnston were stranded, leaving the lead at one after one inning.
Julie Burger picked up Union City's first hit in the top of the second, but a pair of Ks and a 4-3 groundout ended the inning and preserved Punxsy's lead.
In the second, Punxsy doubled its total on the board, and it started with a single by Presloid.
She moved all the way to third on a throwing error, and Grace Hall came through with an RBI during her at-bat.
Union City cut into the lead with a run in the top of the third. Eliza Reynolds got things going with a leadoff walk, and after Jordan Brozell singled, Andrea Eakin plated Reynolds with a single of her own.
But Presloid made a great play behind first base on a looping hit that saved two runs and got Punxsy out of the inning.
Punxsy's largest output came in the bottom of the third.
Johnston reached first on a single, and Gigliotti followed with one of her own. Riskus singled to score Johnston, and Meko kept the good times rolling with a single to score Gigliotti. Presloid made it five hits in the inning for Punxsy with a hit to score Riskus, and Hall reached on an error to bring Meko home, pushing Punxsy's lead to 6-1.
Riskus made quick work of Union City in the fourth with two F4s and a K, and Punxsy answered with three more in the home half of the inning.
Ferrent singled to start it, and Johnston reached on an error to set up an RBI fielder's choice groundout by Gigliotti. Riskus singled to help her own cause and score Gigliotti, and Presloid kept the parade moving with an RBI single to plate Riskus.
Union City added another tally in the top of the fifth with some aggressive baserunning. A leadoff walk to Sydney Gilbert set the stage, and two stolen bases put her in position to score on a passed ball.
Punxsy got that run back in the home half, though, and pushed the lead to 10-2, which would be the final score.
Hartman led off the inning with a single, and used some aggressive baserunning of her own to steal second and third. Then, she came in to score on a fielder's choice off Ferrent's bat.
The first two hitters reached for Union City in the top of the sixth, but Riskus went to work and forced a pair of groundouts and a strikeout to end the inning and give Punxsy the win.
With the victory, Punxsy earned the night off tonight, and tomorrow, it will face off against the winner of the losers' bracket final tonight.
"That resets the pitching, so Kendal will be back on Thursday, and we're guessing that both teams will probably throw their aces against each other to win that game," Gigliotti said. "That might work to our advantage, but either way, we'll go after it and do our best to get the win on Thursday."
If Punxsy would lose the first match-up on Thursday, a winner-take-all rubber match would be next.