MADISON — On Friday, Madison pitcher Emily McKenney wasn’t feeling so good. But by Saturday afternoon, she was rested and ready. And when McKenney is rested and ready, the Bulldogs will take their chances.

McKenney pitched a two-hitter with 12 strikeouts and Madison scored an unearned run in the third inning for a 1-0 victory over fourth-seeded Telstar in a Western C softball semifinal Saturday afternoon.

“I did come to practice (Friday), but I kind of just took it easy,” McKenney said. “Today, I slept a little later, chilled out, tried to keep myself relaxed and calm for today.”

No. 1 Madison (17-1) advances to the Western C final, which will be played at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday at St. Joseph’s College. The Bulldogs play the winner of Monday’s semifinal between Hall-Dale and Mountain Valley.

Telstar (11-5) dealt Madison its only loss of the regular season when pitcher Jessica Dirago fired a shutout. Dirago matched McKenney pitch for pitch on Saturday, allowing two hits and striking out 10 in six innings.

“Jess is very good,” McKenney said. “She throws very hard. She has probably one of the weirdest windups we’ve ever seen — I don’t want to pick on her — but she’s definitely hard to time up. She did a very good job today.”

The first inning showed what kind of game this would be. McKenney struck out the side in the top of the first, but needed 17 pitches to do it. In the bottom of the inning, Madison’s Kirsten Wood lined a leadoff triple to right-center field. With Wood’s speed, it looked like a sure run, but Dirago fanned three in a row to strand Wood at third.

Telstar continued to make McKenney work for her outs by fouling off two-strike pitches up and down the lineup. In the second inning, McKenney battled Sadie Ellsworth for 11 pitches before getting a called third strike. In the fifth, Rebels freshman Tehya Johnson lined a leadoff single down the right-field line. It was Telstar’s first hit of the game, and came on the 13th pitch of the at-bat. Although McKenney allowed only two hits and walked two, she still threw 126 pitches.

“I definitely know that they’re good hitters,” McKenney said. “They’re very well-coached. I just had to stay on top, and I had to keep doing what I’m supposed to do — firing strikes and strikes and strikes, and hopefully, it would go my way.”

After Dirago struck out the side in the second to give her six straight punchouts, Alex Jarvais led off the Madison third by reaching first on an error and moving to second on a wild pitch. Madeline Wood walked on four pitches, and Kirsten Wood bunted the runners over. A bunt single by Kayla Bess loaded the bases, but Dirago got another strikeout for the second out.

That brought up sophomore Aly LeBlanc, Madison’s cleanup hitter. LeBlanc was able to put the ball in play and sent a ground ball squirting toward the right side. The throw to first had her, but Madison first-base coach Floyd Wood leaped up and down and signaled the first baseman was off the bag. The umpire agreed with him, and Madison had a 1-0 lead.

Knowing that could be the only run of the game, the Bulldogs went all-out to protect that slim margin. In the top of the fourth inning, Dirago walked with one out. Madison third baseman Savanna Kandiko came in to catch a popup by Ellsworth, and tried to double courtesy runner Olivia York at first base. Kandiko’s throw went down the right field line, but Cristie Vicneire chased it down and fired to Bess at second base for a double play.

Ellsworth was also the victim of Madison’s other highlight play of the day. She led off the seventh inning with a ground ball in the second base hole. Jarvais, playing first base, dove and couldn’t get it, but second baseman Madeline Wood dove to her right and smothered the ball. Jarvais hustled back to first base, and Wood’s throw was in time for the out. That took on extra importance when the next two Telstar batters reached on errors, but McKenney finished things off with two more strikeouts.

“Everything that happened, we go over,” Madison coach Chris LeBlanc said. “We told them that you’ve got to make that extra-athletic play in the playoffs, and that’s what Madeline Wood did. She laid out for that (and) Alex Jarvais did a nice job recovering and going back.”

After the game, the parents had the Madison players pose in almost every way imaginable in front of the scoreboard. The lightheartedness of the photos was such a contrast to the game before it, in which every play was potentially a game-changer.

“We knew it was going to be an outstanding game, and they were going to pitch the way they pitched the first time around,” LeBlanc said. “It was going to come down to who made the mistakes, and who was able to get a break, and today, we were able to get a break.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo


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