BRANDON — When Mount Anthony left fielder Kori Bow turned, took two steps back, and then just stopped and watched in the bottom of Monday’s eighth inning, everyone at the Otter Valley Union High School softball field knew the season-opening game between the Otters and Patriots had ended.
Bow could only do what the other players, fans and coaches did — watch OV junior Taylor Aines’ game-winning, three-run homer sail at least 30 feet over the left-field fence.
Aines’ towering blast set the final score at 7-4 and capped an Otter rally from a 4-2 deficit created when the Patriots scored two unearned runs in the top of the eighth, one of them on Aines’ own throwing error.
And it capped a memorable day for Aines, who tossed a one-hitter, struck out six and did not allow an earned run despite walking five.
“It feels awesome. It’s so great to get a walk-off. It feels amazing,” Aines said. “It’s a great way to start the season.”
Despite Aines’ heroics, this was a team win for OV. Before the eighth inning, MAU losing pitcher Baylee Ports (seven-plus innings, nine hits, one walk, six strikeouts) had allowed only five hits and one earned run and had retired seven straight batters.
But No. 9 hitter Olivia Bloomer and leadoff hitter Brittany Bushey both singled in the bottom of the eighth. Cortney Poljacik followed by ripping a one-hop shot to second base, and reached when the fielder tried to force Bloomer at third. With the bases loaded, catcher Laura Roberts lined a single to center to score both Bloomer and Bushey and tie the game.
That brought Aines to the plate, who had already singled twice, but in addition to her error had also been picked off first. Those miscues were quickly forgotten: Aines slammed the first pitch she saw over the fence.
But she insisted she was not thinking home run, even if her teammates were.
“My team was telling me, ‘Taylor, you see that fence?’ I didn’t care about the fence,” she said. “Contact is contact. Coach (Pattie) Candon said earlier if you hit contact, good things come.”
Aines was not the only Otter who redeemed herself for mistakes. MAU took the lead in the first inning, when Kate Goodell led off the game with the Patriots’ only hit, a double to right center. She moved to third on a bunt, and Ports walked. Goodell scored when Roberts had the ball slip out of her hand when faking a throw to second as Ports stole. Roberts, of course, later drilled the game-tying single.
MAU made it 2-0 in the third inning. Ports walked with two out, and OV right fielder Megan McKeighan dropped a fly ball, allowing Ports to score.
But McKeighan also bounced back: She singled in the fifth, moved to third on a Bloomer double and came home on a passed ball. Bloomer then scored the tying run on a Bushey ground-out. McKeighan also stabbed the game’s second-hardest hit ball, Goodell’s scorched liner in the MAU fifth.
MAU took the lead in the eighth on three OV mistakes. Morgan Hewitt reached second on a throwing error by Poljacik, the shortstop (who earlier had made two nice plays, and who also soon afterward kept the winning rally alive).
Ports then bunted, and reached when Bushey unsuccessfully tried for a tag play at third rather than the out at first. Bushey had earlier turned in the two best OV defensive plays of the game, both in the sixth: She threw out Lacy Parmenter on a bunt try, and then after a walk, caught another bunt on the fly and doubled the runner off first base. And, of course, Bushey then figured in the winning rally.
Still, those two eighth-inning plays put Patriot runners on second and third. One scored on Makayla Farrara’s sacrifice fly, and the other scored when Aines fielded a grounder, but her throw pulled first baseman Brandi Heath just off the bag.
But, as Aines put it, “no one had their heads down” in the bottom of the eighth.
“We never gave up. We just put the rally caps on and just dug deep,” Aines said.
Coach Candon said the opening day mistakes were forgivable, and she was happy how the Otters shrugged them off.
“It’s very, very tough having 12 days of practice, and being on the field for four, and no time to get scrimmages in,” she said. “But you know, let’s give credit to these kids. They just hung with it.”
That kind of attitude could go a long way for the Otters this year, Candon said.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do. And it’s a lot of work learning the game, knowing the game, and that will come,” Candon said. “We just need to keep going. They’ll come away with it.”
Aines, too, said the Otters are optimistic after defeating what looked like a talented Division I MAU squad.
“We’re hoping for a good outcome this year,” Aines said. “We’ve got a long way to go. We’re hoping it ends well.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.