Tiger softball declaws Cougars

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School softball team enjoyed warm sunshine and a visit from Mount Mansfield on Tuesday, coasting to a 17-2 win in five innings and improving to 7-2.
The Division I Cougars came into Middlebury with a 5-3 record, but made seven errors behind two pitchers, who combined to walk eight batters and hit one while the Tigers rapped eight hits in their four at-bats.
All nine Tigers in the lineup scored, seven knocked in runs, and they batted around three times, scoring six in the first and third innings and five in the fourth.
Meanwhile, junior starting pitcher Payton Buxton allowed only two baserunners in four innings while striking out 10: Losing pitcher Rylee LeBourveau singled with two out in the first, and Buxton hit Lia Mosca with a pitch in the second.
The Cougars managed two runs in the top of the fifth off freshman Abby LaRock, who struggled with her control before settling down to retire the side. LaRock walked three batters and hit Mosca with a pitch to drive in one run, and the other scored on a groundout before LaRock retired LeBourveau on a popup to end the game. LaRock also struck out a batter.
Before then, the Tigers paraded around the bases. The trouble for MMU started with two out in the bottom of the first, when LeBourveau walked Buxton. First baseman Sondra LaRoche followed with a single. LeBourveau then struck out catcher Hannah Lawrence with a changeup in the dirt, but the MMU catcher bobbled the ball and threw wildly to first, allowing Lawrence to reach and scoring Buxton.
Third baseman Darcy Staats followed with a two-run single, left fielder Bridget Audet walked, LaRock laced a two-run double, and then LaRock (then in right field) scored on a passed ball and an infield error on a ball hit by shortstop Lily Smith. It was 6-0 even though the Cougars allowed no earned runs.
Buxton struck out the side in the first and second innings, and by the end of the MMU third had eight Ks. The Tigers went back to work in the bottom of the third after a quiet second inning.
Staats and Audet singled, and center fielder Ally Larocque put down a sacrifice bunt, reaching on an error that scored Staats. Smith reached on an error, picking up an RBI that scored Audet, with Larocque coming home on the miscue.
The Cougars then booted a ball hit by second baseman MaKayla Foster, moving Smith to third. Foster stole second, and both raced home on Laroche’s deep sacrifice fly to right to make it 12-0.
The Cougars switched to Grace Pontius on the mound for the fourth, but things didn’t go better. She hit Staats and walked LaRock and Larocque. Two runners scored on a Smith double, and two more came home on a Buxton double. Lawrence lined a single to score Buxton and make it 17-0 before Pontius retired Staats for the first time in the game on a sharp ground ball to end the inning.
At 7-2, the Tigers are fifth in D-I with plenty of opportunity to move up in the standings in their final seven games. Their two losses have come at undefeated first-place Essex, 4-0, and on May 3 at D-II contender Mount Abraham, 5-3.
The Tigers did not feel they played well at Mount Abe, and they bounced back two days later to deal Colchester (8-1 and third place in D-I) its only setback.
Buxton said the Tigers have done a good job this season on not dwelling on negatives.
“When we make an error or make a mistake, we’re working on keeping our heads up. We’ve been not letting that lead to another mistake, so that’s been helping a lot,” Buxton said. “And also keeping a positive attitude. It just really comes down to that, cheering each other on.”
At the same time, Coach Polly Rheaume said the team did have to refocus after the disappointment in Bristol, and did so successfully.
“After our game with Mount Abe we just had to put our heads together and get down to softball, get down to basics and start all over and just say, hey, we have to do this right. We can’t have any more games like this,” Rheaume said. “This was a learning experience, the one bad game.”
She said one inning vs. Colchester might have been a turning point.
“In Colchester we had an inning where we really had to fight to get back,” Rheaume said. “We turned a double play and got out of that inning and had a really good game.”
Buxton said the Tigers are confident moving forward.
“We have been competing with the big teams,” she said. “I think we’ll be really competitive in the postseason and the rest of the season.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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