PORT BYRON — While any win over Weedsport is special, Port Byron's latest had a little extra significance to it.
Not only did the Panthers clinch a league title, they did so with a top hitter reaching a career milestone.
Behind a pair of home runs from junior Ava Mills, Port Byron softball doubled up Weedsport 8-4 Friday in Port Byron to effectively seal the OHSL Patriot American title.
Mills, who hit solo shots in the third and sixth innings, picked up her 100th career hit in the process. Her homer in the third put Port Byron in the lead for the first time after trailing 3-0 early and the Panthers didn't relinquish that advantage.
"This one meant a lot to us," Mills said. "It was important to us to beat them because they're our rivals and they're a very good team. We always go neck and neck with each other in every sport, so it's nice to come out on top."
The Warriors went ahead by a run in the first inning on Taylor Hunter's RBI single, then added two more runs in the second when Lauren Spingler and Christina Jackson came around to score.
Behind by three runs, Port Byron didn't panic; instead, the Panthers took advantage of a pair of errors from the Warriors to bring home enough runs to tie the score at three runs apiece.
Mills' home run in the third, her second at-bat of the game, was the start of a four-run inning that put the Panthers in the driver's seat 7-3.
"To be honest I was kind of nervous the first time and the second time," Mills said. "I was telling myself to calm down and hit the ball. If it's there, I just hit it."
Weedsport had its opportunity to close in on Port Byron in the fifth. The Warriors loaded the bases with two outs and managed a run when Spingler worked a walk, but Panthers pitcher Kira McLoughlin got a fly out to end the inning and keep Port Byron ahead by three runs.
The Warriors went down in order in the sixth. In the seventh, Karena Ward singled and Hunter walked, but McLoughlin forced another clutch fly out to end the game.
"Our mindset was to get a run and chip away, and hold them defensively," Port Byron coach Matt Tehonica said. "Kira did a great job with her change-ups — we had them off balance and they hit a lot of pop-ups. Great plays all the way around. This team doesn't know how to give up.
"This team here, Weedsport, is a good team. Their catcher (Taylor Hunter) is one of the best catchers in the league. We walked her intentionally a couple times and I told her when we walked through the hand-shake line, 'I can't let you beat us Taylor.' I feel bad because I know she wants to swing the bat, but as a coach I can't let her beat us and she will beat us."
Tehonica, who has coached Port Byron for the last three years and coached at Cato-Meridian prior to that, expressed that he plans to retire after next season. Thanks to the win over Weedsport, he can call it quits in 2020 with a league title in his back pocket.
"I've been coaching 35 years, but 10 years of varsity softball and for me this is my first league title," Tehonica said. "To win it with a team like this ... it's all like one big family. I'm 65 years old and I'm going to retire after next year probably and go down south with my kids. This is just another day in the sun for an old coach and it makes me feel good."
Port Byron has now taken both of its meetings with Weedsport this season, but the Warriors could potentially have a chance at redemption on Saturday as both teams participate in the Cayuga County Softball Tournament. The Panthers will play in the morning against Southern Cayuga, while the Warriors will face Union Springs.
Should both teams win, a title of a different sort could be on the line.
"We don't look ahead. We take it one game at a time," Tehonica said. "We don't worry about the (championship game) tomorrow. We have Southern Cayuga, and if we get through that we worry about our next game. I try not to get them looking ahead to somebody else."