Otter softball tops Eagles to advance in D-II playoffs

BRISTOL — Getting contributions from the entire batting order and a three-hit shutout from senior pitcher Taylor Aines, the No. 5 Otter Valley Union High School softball team eliminated host No. 4 Mount Abraham from the Division II playoffs, 6-0, in a Friday quarterfinal.
Eight Otters had hits, including a two-run homer by senior third baseman Brittany Bushey, a triple by senior shortstop Cortney Poljacik, and an RBI double by senior centerfielder and No. 9 hitter Olivia Bloomer.
The Otters improved to 13-5, a record they earned despite a 2-3 start to the season that included an 11-10 loss at Mount Abraham.
Bushey said the recipe for success has been chemistry and the kind of balance the Otters showed on Friday.
“We’ve all just come together,” Bushey said. “Everyone’s played a part. It’s not one player. It takes all of us every game.”
The Otters advanced to meet No. 1 Lyndon on Tuesday. The 14-1 Vikings on Friday edged No. 9 Springfield, 5-4, in eight innings. Springfield is the only common foe for the two teams. OV defeated the Cosmos by scores of 7-0 and 3-1.  
Bushey said the Otters will be playing with confidence.
“You never know what could happen,” Bushey said. “But we have a smile on our face now. We should be good.”
Of course, Mount Abraham (14-4) enjoyed a strong season against a tough schedule, posting wins over D-I semifinalists Missisquoi and BFA-St. Albans.
Coach Kelley Trayah noted that in the competitive Metro Conference, four of his players were named first-team all-stars and two more made the second team.
The team’s seven seniors have contributed to the program’s steady improvement in recent years, Trayah said.
“There a great bunch,” Trayah said. “I’m going to miss them.”
Six of those seniors started on Friday, but one didn’t always this spring: Senior Sam Forand took the mound for Mount Abe and pitched creditably, allowing four earned runs against the hard-hitting Otters while walking just one batter in six innings. Normally freshman Rachael McCormick starts for the Eagles, but she was ill.
Trayah said Forand threw well, and that with Aines on top of her game McCormick’s absence was not a game-changing factor.
“We couldn’t get anything going, rally-wise,” Trayah said.
Forand kept the Otters off the board for two innings, thanks in part to a second-inning double play. OV catcher Laura Beth Roberts singled and moved to second base on a wild pitch. Forand got the next hitter to ground to senior shortstop Meghan Livingston, who got the batter at first. First baseman Kelsey Haskins then threw out Roberts trying to reach third.
OV broke through in the third. First basemen Danielle Eddy singled, and Bushey laced a line drive down the left field line. Left fielder Ashley Boise dove for the ball, missing by inches, and Bushey circled the bases for a two-run homer.
Boise was the only Eagle baserunner in the first three innings, reaching second base on a one-out infield error in the second. But a grounder to second baseman Amy Jones, one of her five clean plays, ended the threat.
OV made it 3-0 in the fourth when Poljacik lined a triple to right center and scored on a Roberts squeeze bunt. In the bottom of the inning, Eagle senior catcher Madi Wood singled to no-hit speculation.
OV scored twice in the fifth to make it 5-0. Aines singled and stole second. Senior left fielder Megan Santell singled Aines home and then came around to score on a throwing error. OV added its final run in the sixth, when right fielder Maia Edmunds reached on an error, moved up on an Eddy single, and scored on Bloomer’s double.  
The Eagles had a chance to do some damage in the bottom of the fifth with two out when DH Kendra Thompson singled and senior right fielder Tiffany Tracey reached on an Aines’ own throwing error. But Aines recorded her fifth and final strikeout to end the threat.
OV Coach Pattie Candon said Aines has taken a step forward this season by not letting mistakes or questionable ball-and-strike calls distract her.
“She’s just mentally, ‘I’m going to get this batter, I’m going to win this game,’ Candon said.  
The Eagles got the leadoff baserunner on in each of the final two innings, on a single by senior second baseman Sam Reiss in the sixth, their third and final hit, and a walk to Boise in the seventh, the only one Aines issued. But each time the Otters made the plays in the field to earn their date with Lyndon.
Meanwhile, Trayah said the Eagles can look to next year, when despite graduation losses he believes the Eagles will be competitive with the younger players returning and additions from a standout JV team.
“We’re going to miss these seniors, but we’re looking all right in the future,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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