Eagles softball works late to edge Rangers in playoffs
BRISTOL — It took eight innings, 12 stranded Eagle baserunners, key defensive plays, undoubtedly some bitten nails, and finally one clutch hit for the No. 5 Mount Abraham Union High School softball team to advance past visiting No. 11 Lake Region on Tuesday, 3-2.
The difference, ultimately, came down to Eagle senior second baseman Mary-Kate Clark leading off the bottom of the eighth with her second hit of the game, a double, and one out later sophomore winning pitcher Rachael McCormick, who earlier had drilled a solo homer, lacing a single down the third-base line to score Clark with the winning run.
“That was so nerve-wracking,” McCormick said. “I was like, ‘I need to hit the ball.’ I didn’t want a home run, I just wanted to score at least one run to win the game.”
The Eagles improved to 10-7, including five wins in their past six games. Lake Region finished at 6-10 despite a gritty defensive effort and a rally with two out and no one on in the bottom of the seventh inning to force the extra inning.
The Eagles advanced to a Friday quarterfinal at No. 3 Springfield (12-5), a 22-3 winner on Tuesday over No. 14 Lamoille. McCormick, who allowed one earned run while striking out nine and allowing six hits and two walks vs. LRU, said the Eagles were looking forward to that game.
“We’re a good team,” she said. “We’re not over-confident, but I do think we’ll give Springfield a run.”
Coach Kelly Trayah said he expected his batters to fare better on Friday than they did on Tuesday against the soft serves of Ranger curve-ball pitcher Alex Smith. Smith allowed 10 hits and seven walks and struck out just two, but kept the Eagles off-balance for most of the afternoon.
Trayah said the Eagles fare better against the harder throwers most of their Metro Conference foes feature.
“All year that slow pitching has killed us,” Trayah said. “We see that slow stuff and we’re out on our front feet.”
The Eagles stranded four baserunners in the first two innings alone, and then both teams scored unearned runs in the third innings in what on Tuesday were rare defensive lapses. Ranger No. 9 hitter Bianca Mackay, who hit the ball hard all day, singled to lead off and moved to second on a wild pitch. Katie Menard hit a ground ball to the right side, and the Eagles tried to nab Mackay at third. The throw bounced astray, and Mackay scored.
In the Eagle third, McCormick drew a one-out walk, stole second, and scored on a throwing error on Eagle first baseman Kelsey Haskins’ ground ball to the right side.
The Rangers threatened in the third. Smith tripled to right center to lead off, and McCormick walked the next two hitters to load the bases. McCormick fanned the next hitter, and then Mackay drilled a knee-high line drive back up the middle. McCormick snatched the ball and doubled the runner off first to end the inning.
The Eagles had kept putting on runners and not scoring, but McCormick took matters into her own hands in the fifth, leading off with a towering homer to left center. The Eagles got two more runners on, including on one of catcher Dani Forand’s two hits, but Smith snared Kendra Thompson’s liner up the middle and doubled a runner off first to kill that rally.
Meanwhile, McCormick retired eight straight batters after the double play, until two were out in the eighth. Then the Rangers struck. Mackay dropped a liner into center just out of the reach of senior Ashley Boise, who had already made a couple good running catches. Then Menard poked an opposite-field single right over the first-base bag, just past Haskins’ grasp. Kiara Hodge then singled to score Mackay, and the game was tied.
The Eagles threatened again in the seventh, when Anna Hauman and Boise lined two-out singles, but Smith wiggled off the hook by inducing a grounder to the mound. McCormick set the Rangers down in order in the eighth, thanks in part to a nice play at third by Kendra Thompson.
Then the Eagles finally got the key hits they needed. Clark doubled, and Katelynn Ouellette, who handled several chances cleanly at shortstop, walked. Smith got the next hitter, but that brought McCormick — and what Trayah said is her .525 batting average — to the plate. She laced a hard one-hopper over third base, and Clark raced home without a throw.
“Rachael continues to throw strikes and keep us in games,” Trayah said. “Defense kept us close, and we got some timely hits at the end.”
Trayah believes the Eagles’ draw is as good as they could have hoped for, and that they are capable of advancing further.
“I’ve seen Springfield. I think we can battle through them,” Trayah said. “I do have a pretty good feeling that we could make a run at this.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
EAGLE SOPHOMORE RACHAEL McCormick smacks the game-winning hit in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s game against Lake Region. McCormick also hit a homerun earlier in the game. / Independent photo/Trent Campbell
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