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Eagle softball tops Tigers in 10-inning thriller

MIDDLEBURY — When the drama finally ended in Thursday’s high school softball game, visiting Mount Abraham had prevailed over Middlebury, 8-5, thanks first to a game-tying two-run rally in the top of the seventh inning and then a game-winning three-run rally in the top of the 10th.
But the Eagles had to survive the Tigers’ four-run rally in the fifth, and MUHS loaded the bases in the seventh and pushed the potential game-winning run to second base in the ninth, only to see a what could have been the decisive hit land inches foul before winning pitcher Rachel McCormick worked out of trouble.
For the 3-2 Eagles, Coach Kelly Trayah said the win against an improved Tiger team and sophomore pitcher Payton Buxton would give the Eagles a lift after a tough losses at Otter Valley the previous Saturday and by two runs two days before vs. undefeated Essex.
“It’s a good comeback, and we just played a tough game with Essex,” Trayah said. “Middlebury’s gotten a ton better, and Payton’s a hell of a pitcher.”
Coach Polly Rheaume’s 0-2 Tigers lost to a good team in extra innings for the second time last week. Rheaume said just a couple more plays made or timely hits — the Tigers stranded eight runners vs. Mount Abe — and her team could easily be 2-0.
But Rheaume said she was not unhappy with her team’s fielding, Buxton’s pitching, or their nine-hit attack.
“It was just a good game,” Rheaume said. “That one last hit will get us the game next time.”
The first five innings were a pitchers’ duel between Eagle freshman Audrey Shahan and Buxton — each allowed just one run through those frames.
The Eagles broke on top in the first with an unearned run. Catcher Brooke Perlee singled to lead off, and McCormick sacrificed her to second. Perlee moved to third on center fielder Ashley Boise’s groundout and scored on an infield error.
The Tigers threatened in the second when shortstop Sondra Laroche and catcher Hannah Lawrence singled, and left fielder Lily Smith moved them up with a sacrifice bunt. Center fielder Ashleigh Mason-Rivera followed with a grounder to Eagle third baseman Dani Forand. Forand threw her out at first, and first baseman Kelsey Haskins threw out Laroche at home to end the threat.
But the Eagles couldn’t defend the tying run in the fourth: Lawrence homered to left center. She finished with three hits and two RBIs.
Buxton ran into trouble in the sixth. Overall, Buxton allowed 11 hits and three walks while striking out six (mostly on excellent changeups) in 10 innings. But she issued all three walks in the sixth, to Haskins, who was forced out when Forand hit in to a fielder’s choice, Anna Hauman and Mary-Kate Clark. Pinch-hitter Macey Ross singled home two runs, and the Eagles, led, 3-1.
Mount Abe made only two errors, but both came in the sixth, when the Tigers scored four times to take the lead. First baseman and leadoff hitter Abby Lane singled, and one out later Buxton reached on an error. Then Shahan hit Laroche with a pitch, ending her afternoon: She allowed four runs, one earned, struck out eight and walked none.
McCormick came on to face Lawrence with the bases loaded. She lined to Boise in right center to plate Lane and make it 3-2. Smith reached on an error, scoring Buxton and tying the game. A wild pitch moved Laroche and Smith up to second and third, and Mason-Rivera capped the rally with a two-run single to right center.
An error came back to haunt the Tigers in the top of the seventh — a throw pulled Lane off the bag and allowed McCormick to reach. Boise followed with an infield hit, and because each stole second the tying runs moved up to second and third. Kendra Thompson, who had taken over at third base, singled to score both runners and tie the game.
McCormick got two quick outs in the Tiger seventh, but hit Makayla Foster and Laroche and surrendered a single to Buxton to load the bases for Lawrence. Lawrence scorched the ball, but right at right fielder Stacie Sabourin, who snagged it to end the threat.
Both teams threatened in the ninth. McCormick singled and stole second, but Buxton retired the heart of the order. Lane singled for the Tigers with one out, and Foster sacrificed her to second. Buxton then hit a shot down the right field line, but it sailed foul by inches. McCormick then bore down for one of her two strikeouts; she allowed four hits in 4.2 innings.
Then the Eagles broke loose in the 10th. Katelynn Ouellette singled to lead, and after a sacrifice, Mary Kate Clark singled up the middle to make it 6-5. Pinch hitter Ali Sargent followed with another hit, and McCormick lined a double that one-hopped the left-field fence to score two insurance runs.
McCormick pitched around a Lawrence double in the bottom of the inning, and the Eagles had their 8-5 marathon victory.
The Eagles were set to head on Saturday for another tough road game, at St. Johnsbury, but Trayah said they would savor Thursday’s drama.
“Hats off to Middlebury, but we’re going to enjoy this one,” he said.
Rheaume, whose team will host Vergennes on Tuesday, remains confident wins are on the way.
“We had a couple spots there that just didn’t go our way,” she said. “But we’ll get there.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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