They slowly trickled out of the dugout without making a sound. Most walked with their eyes glued to the ground as if they were trying to hide the look of defeat spread across their faces. But no matter what the Western women's softball team did, it couldn't mask the frustration of losing its first two games of the 27th Empire State Games.
It wasn't supposed to be like this, they thought. What happened to the Western team that had medaled every year but one in the sport's 18-year history at the Games?
"This is new to me. I've never been on a team that lost the first two games," said catcher Jesse Rosenhahn, 26. "It's a little frustrating because we know we have a better team than what we played like today."
The 2003 silver medalists received two stellar pitching performances from Lindsay Garbacz and Courtney Piar on Thursday afternoon, but the only things Western had to show were a 2-1 loss to Hudson Valley in eight innings and a 1-0 loss to Long Island.
The Western women still have three games left over the next two days, but will need a lot of help to reach Saturday afternoon's medal games.
"We're a very young and inexperienced team and that inexperience showed today," Western coach Mike Rappl said. "We had some opportunities to score and win both games, but we didn't execute.
"When you're young, you don't realize there's a lot of failure in softball, and I think they kept that failure with them too long. They'd take that last at-bat to the field with them."
While most of the ESG sports have a scholastic and open division, softball has just an open. Though Western has the Canisius graduate, Rosenhahn, most of Rappl's players have not played at the collegiate level yet. The team even starts left fielder Jordan Rutkowski, 14, of Alden.
In the opening game against Hudson Valley, Western tied the game at 1-1 in the second, but couldn't push another run across despite having the bases loaded. Then in the sixth, Western failed to score after having runners on first and third with no outs.
After a scoreless seventh inning, the game went into extra innings and the international tiebreaker rule was enacted, which puts a runner on second base to start the inning.
In the top half, Hudson Valley's Christine Moran laid down a sacrifice bunt in an attempt to move Brandey Weed to third, but she got more than she bargained for when Western's Katie Miranto airmailed the throw to first, which allowed Weed to score the eventual winning run.
It seemed the only Western player who came out sharp in the second game was Piar, who gave up one run on three hits while striking out eight in her six innings of work.
"The way we were hitting and the way we had been playing, I figured it would be close, based on whoever gets a break," Piar said. "And they got it." Katie Schreiber set the stage in the fifth when she singled and was bunted over to second. Julie Crowe then chopped a change-up over the middle, forcing Western shortstop Ashley Bonetto to charge the ball and throw to first on the run.
Crowe was ruled safe, and while Western infielders briefly argued the call, Schreiber continued racing around third and slid home before Western could react. "If we don't argue that call, then it's totally possible we could have gotten her at home," Rappl said.