There's a crucial bit of equipment that is present, and will continue to be present, at every single Falconer Lady Golden Falcons softball game this season.
No, it's not a bat, nor is it a glove (though all of that equipment is there, too, of course); but the squad, and coach Paul Lombardo, nevertheless find it every bit as indispensable as those more recognizable objects.
Falconer’s Brianna McFall, right, steals second as the throw from the catcher gets past Southwestern shortstop Shelby Lunz during Monday’s Division 1 softball game. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
A miniaturized version of a toilet.
"I don't know if you noticed," Lombardo said Monday evening, "but there's a little toilet at the end of our bench, and what we've been preaching this year is that if something bad happens, flush it. And that's what (the girls) do, they go over to it, flush (whatever bad thing happened from their minds) and just forget about it. That's how we've been able to move on."
The prop may be a tad unorthodox, yes, but with a sport in which winning the mental side of the game is more than half the key to victory, it's a trick that's been successful thus far.
A perfect example of its power was the Lady Golden Falcons' bounce-back victory, 7-3, over Division 1 foe Southwestern on Monday.
Just a few days earlier the Falconer crew had been soundly defeated by then-host Allegany-Limestone, 11-3. It was a game in which sophomore starter Katie Hines had experienced some difficulties in throwing strikes, and had been chased from the game by the end of the third inning.
"(Katie) had a rough outing against Allegany-Limestone," Lombardo said. "She walked (some batters) and felt bad about it."
But a flush later, and Hines and her Falconer teammates were suddenly right back on top of their games.
"She was there to play today," Lombardo said of his young pitcher with a smile. "She was there to take charge."
Indeed she was.
Hines earned the complete-game victory, fanning seven and surrendering just three runs on six hits and three walks. It wasn't until late in the game, when her pitch count was rising and she was undoubtedly tiring somewhat, that Southwestern, which scored twice in the sixth and once in the seventh, put its runs on the board.
Before that, however, each time the Lady Trojans threatened, Hines buckled down and, over the course of the game, stranded a number of opposing runners in scoring position.
"She was a pitcher today," Lombardo said. "She's gotten into some 0-2, 1-2 counts before and tried to put one right down the middle to strike them out. And some of those haven't landed yet. But today she was off the plate a little (in those counts) and she never got down. She cut down on the walks and fielded her position well."
With Hines keeping Southwestern's hitter at bay, the Lady Golden Falcons gradually chipped away at first-time varsity starter (and eighth-grader) Sydney Burk, who went five innings and allowed four runs, and her relief, Britta Johnson.
The victors, in fact, never trailed, and scored in every inning save the second and fifth.
Falconer took a 1-0 lead in the first frame when Allison Munella hit a grounder to first base that allowed Jenna Fellows, who was at third after drawing a walk and moving over on another walk and an error, to score.
Munella would deliver another run in the third, making it 2-0, and would finish the contest with two hits and a team-high three RBIs.
"Allie makes contact," Lombardo said, "and she hardly ever strikes out."
Falconer built its lead to five by the end of the top half of the sixth-inning, and after Southwestern answered with its first two runs in the bottom half of that frame (Johnson smacked a single to right that scored teammates Summer Borysoff and Burk), the Lady Golden Falcons pushed two more across in the top of the seventh to re-extend the lead.
Along with Munella, Brianna McFall went 3-for-5 with a run scored and an RBI, Shannon Gunnell went 2-for-3 with a team-high two runs scored and an RBI and Shannon McFall added three hits in four at-bats with an RBI.
Falconer, now 3-1 in league, is back in action today when it hosts Olean. Southwestern, which dropped to 1-2 overall, will play today at Allegany-Limestone.