CUYAHOGA FALLS — They were duped by some audacious baserunning in the early going.
Things also got a bit messy in the end.
Nonetheless, the Black Tigers took a significant step forward in a conference that has been quite cruel to them over the years.
And they did so against a squad that could be a huge factor in the race down the road.
The host Cuyahoga Falls softball team suffered a 12-4 defeat to Brecksville-Broadview Heights Tuesday at Harrington Field.
With the win, the Bees, who are on the short list of contenders for the Suburban League National Conference title, improved to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the conference. The Black Tigers dropped to 1-1 overall and 0-1 in the conference.
Falls trailed 7-0 at one point before scratching its way back in the game. In fact, the Black Tigers had the tying run on deck with two outs in the sixth.
However, Brecksville reliever Macayla Mancuso avoided further damage to get the third out with a runner in scoring position and then retired the side in order to close the deal.
"Obviously, we have been stuck in the gym for the last five, six weeks," longtime Falls head coach Kim Applegarth said. "They’ve been working hard. They are a very coachable group of kids. They’re listening and doing everything we’ve asked of them."
The Black Tigers, who have been bullied quite harshly by National Conference opponents ever since the Suburban League switched to a two-conference format, found themselves on the ropes not long after the game began.
The Bees’ first three batters reached base and they didn’t particularly feel comfortable staying put in the chilly conditions.
Brecksville swiped four bases in the top of the first and took advantage of an infield error to build a 3-0 advantage.
The first run scored after a walk to second baseman Sammi McConnegal, who then decided to dance around off the bag to distract Falls’ defense.
As McConnegal bought some time, center fielder Chelsea Mack, who led off the game with an infield single and then stole two bases, took off for home.
The Black Tigers appeared to be a bit confused by the scenario and when they realized what hit them, their attempt to gun down Mack at the plate was a hair tardy. Left fielder Hannah Paul also had a run-scoring single in the inning.
"It’s exactly what I told them what was going to happen," Applegarth said. "They’re going to be on the bases and they’re going to be aggressive. They want to put pressure on us.
"We have to maintain our composure. We panicked a little in the first inning. We settled down after that."
The Bees didn’t need to be tricky on the base paths to tack on four more runs.
McConnegal let her bat do the work in the second as she ripped a two-run double to left-center field to make it 5-0.
Brecksville made it 6-0 when right fielder Hallie Sweeney smacked a run-scoring single to right and added another run on an infield error in the fourth.
Falls, on the other hand, couldn’t touch Bees’ starting right-hander Kelsey Tokash in the first three innings.
Tokash retired the first nine Black Tigers in order and finished with seven strikeouts and zero walks in four innings of work.
The lone hit off Tokash gave a comatose Falls team a huge jolt of vitality.
Center fielder Tommie Thompson smashed a triple to the gap in right center and scored the Black Tigers’ first run on a sacrifice fly by right fielder Kylee Phillips.
Falls added two more runs off Mancuso in the fifth.
After a leadoff walk to third baseman Carly Manchin, first baseman Marissa Brigger put two runners in scoring position when she blasted a double down the left-field line.
Cyn Stanfield, who pitched six innings for the Black Tigers in the circle, drove in a run with a ground out to second. Falls got its other run courtesy of an infield error.
The Black Tigers cut their deficit to three (7-4) in the sixth when Hanchin crushed a run-scoring double to the gap in right center.
Falls was about an inch or two away from having the tying run at the plate.
Following Hanchin’s two-out hit, Brigger launched a long fly ball to the deepest part of the park.
Mack backpedaled and then quickly turned to her left before making a leaping catch for the third out.
"I was proud because we didn’t quit," Applegarth said. "We battled back. We could have easily hung our heads once we were down. We’ll use it as a learning experience."
Stanfield retired the side in order just once and found herself in jams throughout the game. While Brecksville got its share of hits, Stanfield handled herself admirably in terms of damage control.
The Bees stranded nine baserunners against Stanfield and 12 for the game.
"Not much rattles her," Applegarth said. "She battled back the whole game."
Brecksville regained control of the contest in the seventh.
Shortstop Emily Mau had a two-run double and first baseman Mackenzie Stease drove in two more runs with a single in the inning. Designed player Olivia Tagg concluded the scoring with a run-scoring single against freshman reliever Katie Carrell.
The Bees finished with 19 hits and one error. The Black Tigers had four hits and two errors.
Applegarth will certainly take her team’s gritty effort to make things interesting in the latter innings. At the same time, though, she knows her team’s margin for error is considerably thin against the always loaded National Conference.
"You can’t give a good team like this extra outs," Applegarth said. "They’re a very good team from top to bottom."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.