SUAMICO - Normally when a team goes to its No. 2 pitcher there's a drop in performance. It's just natural since the No. 1 pitcher is No. 1 for a reason.
But Thursday, Bay Port softball coach Paul Baker felt he had no other choice with the season on the line. Pirates ace Taylor Gutzman allowed two runs over the first two innings and Baker didn't want to see this one get away.
So, he summoned sophomore Bailey Smaney to relieve Gutzman in an attempt to quell Ashwaubenon's bats. Smaney made Baker look like a genius as she allowed no runs in five innings, and with the Bay Port offense doing enough the Pirates survived a Division 1 regional final against conference rival Ashwaubenon, 4-3.
"Taylor's been playing against this team for years and they basically have her figured out," Baker said. "We had to make a change, brought in a sophomore and shut them out.
"It's a tough spot. She's very mentally tough. We had a lengthy talk (Wednesday) how she's going to have to step it up."
"I just wanted to do it for my team," Smaney said. "I knew I was coming in to a tough spot. I was just ready to go. Taylor has done an amazing job this year, but it was just rough for her. They've seen her so many times."
With Smaney controlling Ashwaubenon it was up to Bay Port's offense to help her out. Bay Port trailed 2-0, tied it at 2-2 and then trailed 2-2. Ashwaubenon then went ahead 3-2, as the Jaguars seemingly always had a response.
However, Bay Port scored the game's final two runs and paid back the Jaguars for a 3-1 loss last week, which prevented Bay Port from winning its third straight Fox River Classic Conference title. Instead, Aswaubenon won the title.
"There's always a bitter pill with Ashwaubenon," Baker said. "There's a rivalry, a good rivalry. Both teams have a lot of respect for each other."
Added Smaney: "The conference doesn't mean anything after this game."
Bay Port next plays Tuesday at Appleton East in a sectional semifinal. Last year, the teams met in a sectional final with East winning.
East has made five straight state tournaments and is a veteran group. Baker said this season with such a young group it has been a roller coaster, kind of like Thursday's win.
"(This season's been) frustrating for me; rewarding but frustrating," Baker said. "We have ability but it's knowing what to do with that ability. I haven't had to teach that the last couple years.
"They're growing up. When Taylor Gutzman's out, we have one senior playing."
Smaney will return to her backup role Tuesday but she knows if called upon again she can deliver for her teammates.
"I feel more comfortable," Smaney said. "Big situations I know I have to be ready at any time."
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay
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