ELBRIDGE — Port Byron softball felt the pain of losing as a No. 1 seed last spring.
While that sting won't heal, lessons were learned. This year, despite a lower seed, the Panthers are one win away from reaching the section title game.
Port Byron defeated top-seeded Jordan-Elbridge 7-2 in the Section III, Class C quarterfinals Thursday at Elbridge Elementary School.
While Port Byron was the tournament's eighth seed versus the No. 1 Eagles, this was no conventional upset. The Panthers retained much of the roster that went undefeated through last year's regular season.
That Port Byron was the only team to beat J-E this season — the teams split their two regular season meetings — only helped matters.
"I've got some hungry girls. My seniors are not quitters," Panthers coach Bill DeAngelis said. "We've been playing really good defense and that helps us out."
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"We wanted to come in strong, especially us seniors. We just kept saying, we can't lose this early. We can't do it like last year," pitcher Nikki Namisniak said. "We kept that mentality."
The Panthers wasted no time putting pressure on the Eagles. Mackenzie McDowell's triple highlighted a three-run first inning, and Namisniak helped her own cause with an RBI triple that pushed a three-run second inning.
Through two frames, Port Byron led 6-0. No small feat against the Eagles, who led the OHSL in runs allowed this season with only 43 against.
"It eased the nerves a little bit," Namisniak said. "I have a lot of faith in the team, especially with our bats and our defense, to get the job done."
Jordan-Elbridge didn't lack for chances. The Eagles loaded the bases in the second inning with one out, but Namisniak worked out of the jam with a pop up and ground out.
The Eagles managed one run in the third inning, as Ava Hildebrant tripled and later scored. Another run by Abigail Ahern followed in the fifth. But each time J-E seemed primed for a big inning, Namisniak and catcher Colleen Jump worked out of trouble.
"They work well together," DeAngelis said. "Without a good catcher, you don't have a good pitcher."
Namisniak finished with two strikeouts, one to finish the sixth inning and the other to end the game.
Otherwise, she was content letting her defense make plays behind her. The showing was proof that Port Byron, typically known for its potent offense, is capable of shutting it down defensively too.
"We know opposing batters. We know from playing them twice how to throw around them, like throwing high if they like biting on outside pitches," Namisniak. "We we know a lot of them like to hit up the middle, so playing the infield in more. We did a lot of research."
Four players finished with multi-hit games for Port Byron: McDowell (double, triple, run, RBI), Jordan Cook (run, RBI), Jump (RBI) and Bella Martinez.
Ahern and Heather Sorts each had two hits for the Eagles. Abby Delfavero had three strikeouts and allowed only three hits over the final five innings.
Now that the top seed is out of the tournament, Class C is fair game to the remaining four teams, including Port Byron. While the Panthers can match up with any team moving forward, another stiff test awaits in the semifinals on Saturday.
Port Byron will play fourth-seeded Onondaga-LaFayette. The teams played once already this season, with the Panthers dropping a 4-2 game in early May.
"I think we're tough enough to hang with anybody in the Cs," DeAngelis said. "I'm confident in this team."
Sports reporter Justin Ritzel can be reached at (315) 282-2257 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ReporterRitz.