PORT BYRON — Down to their final inning, their final out, their final strike, the Panthers snatched victory, and the county title, from the jaws of defeat.
Jenna Waite's two-run home run in the top of the seventh inning pushed Port Byron softball past Weedsport 3-2 in the Cayuga County Softball Tournament championship Saturday afternoon in Port Byron.
It's the first time since 2016 that the county tournament has been played. The previous two tournaments were canceled due to weather, and this year's tournament was pushed back from the original scheduled date in April.
The last time the tournament was played, Port Byron was defeated by Union Springs for the title. This time, the never-say-die Panthers came through.
"With Jenna Waite ... I don't understand because she's so small, but boy she can pound the ball when she keeps her weight back," Port Byron coach Matt Tehonica said. "It's the whole team — they don't have the concept of losing. If they beat us, they beat us, but we're not going to beat ourselves."
Weedsport did everything it could to make amends for its loss to Port Byron in Friday's de-facto league title game that the Panthers won 8-4. The Warriors came up with a handful of defensive plays to frustrate Port Byron's typically dangerous offense.
In the third inning with the game still scoreless, Weedsport center fielder Trinity Davis threw out the Panthers' Maggie David at home, with catcher Taylor Hunter applying the tag, to keep Port Byron off the board. Later in the fifth inning, Davis robbed Port Byron slugger Ava Mills of an extra-base hit, while Aubrey Ouderkirk made a diving stop at shortstop to end that inning when the Panthers had the bases loaded.
"Our pregame warm-up yesterday was really sloppy. When we got here we weren't going through the motions with our throwing and we were kind of screwing around. The girls knew that we had to bite down and get some things done," Weedsport coach Sandy Donahue said. "We did some defensive changes and we did so well in the first game (against Union Springs) I said let's keep it. I was proud of them. They did a great job."
Clinging to its 2-1 lead, the Warriors were determined not to let Mills, who hit two home runs in Port Byron's win Friday, to beat them again. In the top of the seventh with Skyler White already on base, Weedsport walked Mills to put the potential go-ahead run at first. The strategy appeared to work as the next batter, Nicole Namisniak, lined into a double-play.
"Much respect but (Mills) got us yesterday a couple times," Donahue said. "It wasn't going to happen today, but that's a good team. Somebody else steps up and makes a play, and they had another batter that came in and did the exact same thing."
Down to the Panthers' final out and Mills serving as the tying run at second base, Waite slammed a home run over the fence in center field to put the Port Byron in front 3-2.
"We knew Ava wasn't going to see a pitch today," Tehonica said. "I told (Jenna) to relax and look for her zone. That's one thing we've worked on all year long is where our zone is to hit the ball hard. I said to see your pitch and drive it, and she drove it over the fence. I said hit it where they ain't, and they ain't over the fence."
Needing a run to extend the game, Weedsport's Ouderkirk hit a two-out single, but the Port Byron pitcher Namisniak forced a fly out to end the game and capture the county title for the Panthers.
Waite was one of three Port Byron hitters to post multiple hits, going 2-for-4 with two runs and a single in addition to her homer. Chloe Skutt (RBI) and David both went 2-for-3. Sadie White, Namisniak and Cook also picked up hits, while Mills walked three times.
Karena Ward (run) and Lauren Spingler (RBI) both went 2-for-3 for Weedsport, while Ouderkirk, Davis (run) , and Christina Jackson (RBI) had one hit each.
Port Byron (11-1) travels to Fabius-Pompey on Monday, while Weedsport (9-6) also plays Monday at home against Bishop Grimes.
Port Byron 16, Southern Cayuga 1 (six innings): Ava Mills went 3-for-4 with a home run, two singles, four runs and three RBIs for the Panthers. Skyler White went 1-for-2 with three walks and four runs while Nicole Namisniak went 2-for-3 with a triple, double, walk, two runs and five RBIs.
Brook Walter was 2-for-3 with an RBI for Southern Cayuga, while Kaley Driscoll (double, run), Ellie Brozon, Molly Walter (walk) and Lily Colton all singled.
Weedsport 19, Union Springs 0 (five innings): Aubrey Ouderkirk (double, three runs) and Christina Jackson (three runs) both had three-hit games for the Warriors. Trinity Davis went 2-for-3 with a double, triple and three runs, and Bridget Davis was 2-for-2 with two walks and four runs.
Sports writer Justin Ritzel can be reached at 282-2257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenRitz.