Eagle softball nips Slaters, eyes its first crown

BRISTOL — For the first time since 1992, the Mount Abraham Union High School softball team is going to the Division II final, where the Eagles hope to win the program’s first-ever championship.
The No. 1 Eagles (16-3), who defeated visiting No. 4 Fair Haven in a Tuesday semifinal, 2-0, will face No. 2 Lyndon (16-2) in Poultney on Friday at 6 p.m.
The Eagles and Vikings, who unlike the Eagles played a schedule of mostly D-II and D-III opponents, did not meet this spring. They faced two common opponents: Lyndon defeated Milton, 3-1, and North Country, 12-11, at home. Mount Abe won at Milton, 1-0, and at NCU, 14-6.
Lyndon coasted past No. 6 Fairfax, 11-3, on Tuesday while the Eagles were edging a Fair Haven squad that came to Bristol undefeated against D-II competition, having lost only to Mount Anthony, Middlebury and Brattleboro.
The Eagles played excellent defense, making only one error on a hard-hit Briley Blackbird ball in the first inning, behind winning pitcher Rachael McCormick, who tossed a complete-game two-hitter, striking out six and walking three.
Mount Abe Coach Kelly Trayah said his team rose to the occasion against a tough opponent with its own good pitcher, sophomore Olivia Bowen. Bowen kept the Eagles off balance with an assortment of pitches, allowing five hits, fanning four and walking two. 
“Olivia’s a good pitcher, and they’ve got good hitters,” Trayah said. “We knew we were going to have to have a good performance, especially defensively.”
McCormick allowed baserunners in each of the first five innings, and the leadoff hitter reached in the second, fourth and fifth innings. But each time she buckled down, and the defense, after the first-inning miscue, was flawless.
“She did a great job controlling the game, and I thought there were key plays,” Trayah said.
In the fifth, McCormick walked the leadoff batter, pinchhitter Paige Manley, with the top of the order coming up. But catcher Brooke Perlee caught Manley stealing. In the sixth, Abby Ferrara scorched a one-out liner up the middle, but Eagle shortstop Katelynn Ouellette lunged to her left and gloved it. With one out in the seventh, Lizzy Muratorri ripped a shot at third baseman Dani Forand, but Forand fielded a tough short hop cleanly and threw the Slater out.
   MOUNT ABRAHAM UNION High School pitcher Rachael McCormick struck out six Fair Haven batters and allowed just two hits in Tuesday’s Division II semifinal game in Bristol. The Eagles won the game, 2-0.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
McCormick also pitched her way out of jams in the first and fourth innings. After Blackbird reached on an error, she stole second with the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters due up, but McCormick retired them on a strikeout and a grounder to the mound.
In the fourth, she walked Ferrara leading off, and Hunter Buxton singled with one out. A strikeout and a grounder to Emily Aldrich at second base ended that Slater threat. Slater catcher Sophie Hadeka singled to lead off the second, but McCormick retired the next three hitters.
McCormick said she tried to keep it simple on the mound.
“I didn’t think, there was that. Normally I over-think it,” she said. “But I had my fastball, and my changeup worked pretty good, and that was all I used today.”
The Eagles got one run in the first. Ouellette and Perlee singled to lead off and moved to second and third on stolen bases. Ouellette tried to score on a pitch in the dirt, but was out on a nice recovery by Hadeka. But Bowen struggled with her control in the inning, and a wild pitch scored Perlee.
The Eagles threatened in the fourth when McCormick doubled to lead off, but stranded her there. She was the only baserunner Bowen allowed between the second and fifth innings.
The Eagles made it 2-0 in the sixth. Perlee singled to lead off, and McCormick walked. Forand lined a two-out single to right to score Perlee and move McCormick to third. McCormick then tried to steal home and was called out on a close play just as thunder delayed the game for 30 minutes; she was convinced she was safe.
After the delay, McCormick quickly retired the Slaters on three ground balls, the final one to first baseman Macey Ross sparking a celebration.
McCormick said the delay didn’t bother her pitching, in part because she was motivated by the out call at home. 
“Actually, I felt pretty energized after being robbed at the plate,” McCormick said, “I got to cool down. I was ready.”
McCormick also noted that in each of her first three years on the team the Eagles have lost in the quarterfinals, twice as a higher seed.
“(It’s) really awesome finally breaking through being kicked out of the second playoff game,” she said. “It feels pretty good going to the ’ship.”
Trayah said he would do his part to get the team prepared to win again, in part by studying video of Lyndon.
“Now we’ve just got to get ready to do the same thing,” he said. “I’m going to watch a lot of tape.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
   EAGLE SOPHOMORE BROOKE Perlee gets one of her two hits against Fair Haven Tuesday afternoon in Bristol. Perlee scored both Eagle runs in Mount Abraham’s 2-0 win.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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