Tessa Sutherland’s experience goes far beyond being a three-year varsity player.
The Sweet Home pitcher had the offseason of a lifetime traveling the country with the 16U Inferno and then went to Europe to play more softball there.
Those experiences combined with her leadership skills made her an obvious choice as captain for the Lady Panthers softball team.
“This is Tessa’s year to put the team on her back,” Sweet Home coach Jim McNamara said. “The girls understand that she’s played at a high level. She models leadership in everything she does and the girls really listen to her.”
On Monday afternoon, Sutherland put the Panthers on her back throwing a one-hit shutout and as they beat the Cheektowaga Warriors 3-0 at the Sweet Home High School.
The senior also registered her team’s only hit of the game as Sweet Home got its first win of the year.
“This sets us off on the right track,” Sutherland said. “We just have to go in with the mentality that we need to swing hard. That’s something that we’ve been working on a lot this winter.”
Sweet Home lead-off hitter Riley Kromer was walked to start the game and then stole second, third and home base for the Panthers’ first run.
Sutherland started her stellar day on the hill by retiring the side in the first inning.
In the second, Cheektowaga’s Taylor D’Amico was walked and pinch runner Ahmarra Wilkes stole second and third base, but the Panthers were able to put away the next two batters.
Paige Onisk got the only Warrior hit the of the day getting the ball past the infield for a single. Onisk was able to get the third, but three straight outs didn’t allow her the opportunity to score.
“Our pitchers were outstanding,” Warriors coach Emily Belfield said. “Our fielders didn’t get a lot of action but they made the plays had to. Hitting is something we’ve got a lot to work on.”
In the fifth, the Panthers got their insurance runs. Julie Stroupe was walked and then stole second and third base. Fellow pinch-hitter Lauren Grucello got on base on a passed ball.
Kromer got to the plate and drove home Stroupe and moved Grucello to third on a sacrifice groundout. Grucello later stole home for Sweet Home’s final run.
Sutherland followed up the offensive support by turning down the next six batters she faced to seal the victory.
Torrie Jenkins pitched five innings getting six strikeouts for Cheektowaga in the losing effort.
There was a lot of newness for the Warriors. It was Belfield’s inaugural game as head coach and it was the first time the team had been outside this season.
“Our players are very versatile they can play anywhere,” said Belfield, who played softball for St. Bonaventure from 2013-2016. “Finding the best situation and the best places for them to play is where we’re at right now.”
Last season the Panthers went 3-11 and fell 7-0 to West Seneca East in the opening round of the Class A1 playoffs. They hope that Monday’s win is the beginning of a big turnaround for the program.
“This is a great way to start,” McNamara said. “The girls feel confident and the fielding is strong. If we can produce runs we can have a successful year.”
Both teams kick off their league schedules as they face crosstown rivals on Wednesday at 4:45 p.m. Sweet Home will host Amherst and Cheektowaga heads to Maryvale.
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