Zahn, Ralls

Florence's Danielle Zahn runs home as coach Rob Ralls yells at Kasidy Yeoman to stop at third base after Yeoman's bases-clearing 3-run triple on Tuesday against Loyola Sacred Heart. The Falcons topped the Breakers 9-4 in Florence.

FLORENCE — In the box score, it counts just the same as a line drive.

But it was a swinging bunt off Florence's Shannon Byrne's bat that sparked a four-run third-inning rally and helped lift Florence over rival Loyola Sacred Heart, 9-4, on Tuesday.

Byrne's hit that barely left the batters box also helped show off the Falcons fierce ground game.

"It puts a ton of pressure on, and we know they're a well-coached team, and they play small ball really well," Loyola coach Brian Bessette said. "They run the bases well, and you have to make plays, or it's going to keep coming."

After Byrne beat out the throw from Loyola catcher Carly Tipp, Florence's Natalie Dulac tried to sacrifice Byrne to second. 

But Dulac was also able to beat a throw to first base, and when Kylie Kovatch was hit by a pitch two batters later, it set up a bases-loaded, one-out situation for the No. 5 hitter, senior Danielle Zahn.

Zahn's big RBI hit was a perfectly placed bunt to the third base side that scored Byrne and kept the bases juiced. With a run in, the Falcons had cut into Loyola's lead, 2-1, and not a single ball had traveled beyond the pitcher.

"(Our ground game) is big. We've got 10 banners out there, and a lot of it is due to the short game," Florence coach Rob Ralls said, pointing to the 10 state championship banners that hang on the outfield fence at the two-time defending champs' newly renovated field. "We like to execute it when we need to.

"It's fun to hit home runs and swing the bat, but when things aren't going good, we always turn back to our short game and that usually gets us going."

It did. Two batters after Zahn, freshman Kasidy Yeoman belted a 3-2, two-out pitch to the wall in left-center field that cleared the bases and put Yeoman on third. 

The three-run triple from the underclassman gave Florence a 4-2 lead, one they would add on to and never relinquish the rest of the game.

"I saw the pitch early, saw it was coming down the middle and I just swung," said Yeoman after the win while donning catcher gear to play in the junior varsity nightcap.

Loyola, which led 2-0 after the first inning thanks to a handful of fielding errors from Florence and an RBI base hit from Kayla Hickethier, snagged a pair of runs in the top of the fifth inning, too. Tipp had the big hit in that frame, a two-run liner to center field that scored Molly McHugh and Emily Hermes, and Loyola's deficit was just one, 5-4.

"I thought we were right in it. We were a couple hard hits right at people that if they're 2 or 3 feet one way or the other we're right back in that game," Bessette said. "I was proud of our girls. They did not let up the whole time and we hit the ball hard the whole game."

But Byrne — who hit an inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the fourth inning — pitched out of a two-on, one-out jam from there to keep the Falcons leading.

Florence piled on with four more runs in the bottom half of the fifth, using a leadoff hit from Zahn that she turned into a de facto-double with some heads-up base running after Loyola mishandled a cutoff throw.

An RBI double from Jaidyn Larson followed, then — naturally — came bunt singles from Yeoman and Danara Greer. Yeoman's bunt scored Larson, and both Yeoman and Greer came home on an Emily Kinnaman base hit to make it 9-4, Florence's lead.

Byrne shut the door from there getting the complete-game win to help Florence improve to 1-0 in conference, 5-1 overall. Loyola fell to 1-1, 3-2.

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