The start to the B-2 softball final was a near disaster for the Eden Raiders.
Starting pitcher Marissa Calloway, who struggled with Williamsville North's turf field, faced only two Roy-Hart batters before getting pulled due to multiple illegal pitches. A double from Rams' utility player Mallory Steiner made it 3-0 after one, and Roy-Hart built that lead up to 5-0 by the start of the fifth inning.
Then, as the Raiders felt their backs against the wall, something clicked. By the end of the evening, it felt like Eden was swinging at a beach ball.
The Raiders chipped away at the deficit, culminating in a five-run and seven-hit seventh inning to earn a 9-6 comeback victory on Thursday night.
"We lost this game last year and in the same fashion," Eden coach Marisa Fallacaro said. "It was the girls who led the charge in the sixth and the seventh. They did all the talking and they said, 'I don't want to go out again.'"
Eden cut the lead to 5-4 in the top of the sixth inning, but an RBI single by Roy-Hart's Maddy Glena in the bottom of the frame pushed the lead back to two entering the seventh. The Raiders' dugout roared as the seventh inning kicked off with a pair of singles, and the cheering grew even louder once Stella Bialaszewski tied the game at six with a two-RBI double.
"It was an emotional roller coaster," Bialaszewski said. "I never once doubted my team, that we would come back and win. We were hitting the ball, we just weren't hitting the spots. I knew we would pull through."
Two batters later, Mattie Woodard gave Eden its first lead, scoring two more with a single.
"I saw perfect contact and I knew I was driving them in," Woodard said. "That's gone, we're doing this."
Paiton Basinski concluded the offensive outburst with an additional RBI single, scoring Woodard from third. As the inning went along, the difference in the teams' body language was striking. In the end, the Raiders' confidence prevailed.
"After the first couple (at bats), I knew we were winning that," Woodard said.
Freshman Kaitlyn Schmitz was vital in relief for Eden, going the rest of the way after Calloway was pulled.
"She has come in in so many big games this year and just done great," Fallacaro said. "She's just a rockstar."
The Raiders will return to Williamsville North on Tuesday to face Olean in the Class B final. The Huskies defeated Fredonia, 2-1, to win the B-1 final on Thursday.
"I have no doubt that our team can do it," Woodard said. "I have no doubt that we can go further."