FLORENCE — The Safford Bulldogs rallied in the fifth inning to take the lead and defeat the Florence Gophers 4-3 in a 3A softball play-in game on Wednesday.

“Florence is a team who always gives us a game,” Safford coach Jordan Ornelas said afterward. “We scrapped to get that win.”

The Bulldogs previously beat the Gophers 8-2 on March 8 in Florence. On Wednesday, the visitors were hampered somewhat by three errors and six walks.

“We have a few things to fix, but this time of year, it’s who scraps and who has more heart,” Ornelas said. “… We didn’t have very many hits, but we scrapped to figure it out.”

“It was a tough loss, especially for Dani (senior pitcher Danielle Johnson),” Florence coach Dominic Rice said. “She did an outstanding job in the circle again, gave us a chance to win. … When it’s your senior year, your home playoff game, I know she’s going to feel that. But she’s been such a great talent for us through her entire career. And she didn’t disappoint today at all. She did her job and she did it well, so we’re very proud of her for that.”

Johnson allowed zero earned runs and six hits, walked one, struck out one and threw 90 pitches. Safford pitcher Kristin Cocke allowed one earned run and five hits, walked six, struck out four and threw 140 pitches.

As a team, the Gophers had five hits — four singles and a double — and a lot of walks but couldn’t come up with the big hit when it really counted. Batting .250 with runners in scoring position, the Gophers left 10 runners on base. Florence had five errors.

“I think the biggest stat that we’re going to look back on is those runners left in scoring position,” Rice said. “To not get key hits in those moments is going to be a heartbreaker for us when we go back and look at it. … Such a close game. We were in it. They had one inning where they scored three runs, that put them ahead. But it was nothing we did extremely bad defensively. They just had hits that found the right spot where we couldn’t make a play on it.”

The Bulldogs were first on the scoreboard, when Ahlora Lawson ran home on a passed ball in the top of the second inning.

But the Gophers responded immediately and loaded the bases. Regan Lueders, courtesy-running for Kendall Drake, ran home on a passed ball. Alyssa Hall bunted and reached base safely, Johnson ran home and the Gophers took the lead. The hosts extended their lead in the fourth when Amaya Guilin scored.

Safford then took charge in the fifth, loading the bases with hits by Izzi Quintero, Abi Gallegos and Cocke. Senior third baseman Tori Millwood then singled, reached second on an error, and her teammates all scored.

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