Eagles softball tops Commodores: reach D-II semis

VERGENNES — With solid defense, a 17-hit attack and four-hit pitching from junior Rachael McCormick, the top-seeded Mount Abraham Union High School softball team coasted in its Division II quarterfinal vs. visiting Vergennes on Friday, 11-1.
The 15-3 Eagles avenged their only D-II loss of the season — their other setbacks have come to the Nos. 1 and 3 seeds in D-I.  
Next the Eagles will host No. 4 Fair Haven on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. The 14-4 Slaters have won 14 of 15 games after an 0-3 start.
The Eagles and Slaters have not met this spring but have two common opponents: Middlebury and Otter Valley. The Slaters lost to the Tigers, 7-6, while the Eagles dealt the Tigers one of their two losses, 5-2. Mount Abe defeated OV, 5-2, while Fair Haven topped OV twice, 6-5 and 9-1.
The D-II final will be contested in Poultney on June 9, 10 or 11. No. 2 Lyndon (15-2) and No. 6 Fairfax (13-5) will meet in the other D-II semifinal.
 Coach Kelly Trayah would like to see more of Friday’s successful formula against the tough competition to come.
“We’ll definitely have to do more of the same, with that timely hitting,” said Trayah.
Senior tri-captain Dani Forand, who on Friday contributed two hits, an RBI, and three nice defensive plays at third base, said the Eagles remembered their 8-2 loss at VUHS on May 5, but were confident heading into the rematch.
“I think we all knew that we were a better team,” Forand said. “We just needed to play hard. Last time we played them we had lots of errors in the first couple of innings.”
The Commodores did not have their best day in the field, but in the end only the last two Eagle runs were unearned. VUHS Coach Mike Martin praised Mount Abe’s hitting and defense, singling out McCormick for making a half-dozen plays, some of them tough ones.
“Hats off to them, key hits, and Rachael fielded her position really well today. She ate up everything that went back up the middle,” Martin said. “We put the bat on the ball. They just made good plays in the field. And they put the bat on the ball and hit it where we weren’t.”
The Eagles scored off losing pitcher Tamara Aunchman (six strikeouts, one walk, two hit batters) in five of their six at-bats. In the first, McCormick singled and stole second. Second baseman Emily Aldrich singled her home and stole second, and Forand singled in Aldrich to make it 2-0.
In the second, center fielder Jenna McArdle and left fielder Stacie Sabourin both singled and stole bases, and shortstop Katelynn Ouellette singled them home, and it was 4-0.
Mount Abe broke it open in the third with four runs on four hits, three more stolen bases, and two run-scoring wild pitches. Not all the hits were line drives. After Aunchman hit first baseman Macey Ross with a pitch, McArdle and DH Audrey Shahan both beat out softly struck grounders. Shahan plated Ross, wild pitches scored two runs, and after a single by Ouellette and another stolen base, catcher Brooke Perlee knocked in Ouellette to make it 8-0.
In the fourth, singles by Aldrich, Forand and McArdle produced another run, and the Eagles added their final two runs in the sixth, when Sabourin reached second base on an error, Ouellette singled her in and stole second, and Perlee singled Ouellette home.
VUHS scored in the top of the sixth, when Aunchman ripped a double off the third-base bag and reached third on a throwing error, one of just two for Mount Abe. Right fielder Nikki Salley then drove a pitch to right field for a sacrifice fly, scoring pinchrunner Lydia Sabourin.
Salley, second baseman Sarah Rathbun (who played well in the field) and center fielder Jaymee Fulcher all had bunt singles for VUHS. But only two of those hits came in the same inning, the fourth, and McCormick ended the threat with a strikeout, one of her six. She walked one.
The Commodores finished at 8-10, mostly against D-1 competition.
“We beat some good teams,” Martin said.
Key members of the team will graduate: Aunchman, a slugger as well as the top pitcher; catcher Felicia Armell; infielder Megan Martin, who missed Friday with a scheduling conflict; Salley; infielder Nicole Stearns; and the speedy Fulcher.
Martin will remember them fondly: He has coached most of them since elementary school.
“It’s a little tough to see them go, finally,” he said.
Trayah said the Eagles followed a game plan in stealing 11 bases on Friday.
“We wanted to be very aggressive on the bases,” Trayah said. “I thought we had a nice complete game today.”
Forand said the Eagles will continue to work hard at practice as they seek a title they believe is within their grasp.
 “I think we’re pretty confident,” she said. “We’re trying not to be too confident. I think we all think we have a good chance.”

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