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Eagles edge Tigers in softball showdown: Mt. Abe stays unbeaten

MIDDLEBURY — In a Tuesday showdown between two of Vermont’s top high school softball teams, visiting Mount Abraham earned a 3-2 victory over Middlebury in a tense contest that saw two double plays, the game-tying run thrown out at the plate in the bottom of the sixth, and the Eagles escaping two bases-loaded jams.
Division II Mount Abe improved to 5-0 with all five wins against D-I teams, its last three against teams in the top eight in the D-I standings: Essex, BFA-St. Albans and now MUHS. The Eagles have opened up a big early lead in D-II standings.
Rivalry games lie ahead — Vergennes and Otter Valley have defeated the Eagles in recent years, plus Colchester and Missisquoi are undefeated. But Tuesday’s winning pitcher Rachael McCormick, who also pounded a go-ahead RBI double, said after surviving the past three games the Eagles feel ready for the challenges.
“It was a pretty tough stretch, pretty stressful, actually, but we came out on top,” McCormick said. “We’re pretty confident, but the next two games are pretty important, so we’re trying to go in with confidence, but also knowing what we’re up against.”
   MOUNT ABRAHAM UNION High School senior Genysis Berube beats the throw to Middlebury shortstop Lily Smith and successfully steals second base during the Eagles’ 3-2 win Tuesday afternoon.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
 Coach Polly Rheaume saw her Tigers drop to 4-2 after leaving nine runners on base, but remains confident in her team.
“We just had to have that one more hit,” Rheaume said. “I’m very happy with how they’re doing.”
With MUHS ace Payton Buxton — who last week notched her 500th career strikeout — allowing just two harmless singles through the first three innings, the Tigers took a 2-0 lead.
In the first, leadoff hitter Lily Smith walked and moved to third when Buxton doubled down the left-field line. With one out, Smith scored on Darcy Staats’ RBI grounder to second base, with Staats reaching on an error and stealing second. Taylor Sylvester reached on a dropped third strike, but McCormick got a strikeout and a pop-up to work out of the bases-loaded jam.
In the third, MUHS made it 2-0. Buxton singled up the middle, stole second, and scored when Sylvester laced an opposite-field single to right.
The Eagles began to get to Buxton (seven hits, two walks, 10 Ks) in the fourth. McCormick led off with a single, stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch. Jenna McArdle laced a single to score McCormick, stole second, and scored when catcher Genysis Berube timed a changeup and drilled a line single up the middle.
The Tigers got unlucky in the bottom of the inning. Bridget Audet singled to lead off and was running on the pitch when Carly Larocque followed with a liner to shortstop Katelynn Ouellette, who doubled Audet off first.
The Eagles took the lead in the bottom of the inning. With two out, Emily Aldrich worked a walk, taking three close pitches after falling behind in the count, 1-2. McCormick followed with a towering double to center to plate Aldrich.
   EAGLE SENIOR PITCHER Rachael McCormick notched 12 strikeouts against Middlebury Tuesday afternoon. The Eagles won the game, 3-2.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
The Tigers had a golden chance to regain the lead in the bottom of the inning off McCormick, who allowed six hits and five walks and fanned 12. Three of those walks came to the first three batters, Smith, Buxton and Abby LaRock, loading the bases with none out. But McCormick got the next three hitters on two popups back to the mound and a grounder to Ouellette.
“It was a tough game,” McCormick said. “I was like, ‘OK, focus, you can do this. You can get out of this. And then relax.’ I just wanted some strikes.”
The Tigers rallied again in the sixth. Audet led off with a single, and with two out Smith walked. Buxton followed with a ground single up the middle, but McCardle’s throw from center field nailed Audet at home to end the last MUHS threat.
Eagle Coach Don McCormick said moving McArdle to center field has solidified the defense, while Rachael McCormick has risen to the occasion on the mound.
“Since we put Jenna McArdle in center field, it’s been just incredible,” he said. “And we’ve been getting good pitching. Rachael’s been throwing well. She’s scattered some hits, but she’s been able to stay out of the big innings.”
Buxton worked around a walk in the seventh by doubling a runner off first after catching a popup, and McCormick breezed through a 1-2-3 inning to nail down the big win.
Rheaume said she and the Tigers would not be discouraged by the setback.
“An excellent game like that, you learn from your mistakes, and you work on it and you build from it and you get better from it,” Rheaume said. “We’ve got a lot of talent on this team.”
Coach McCormick said Tuesday’s win typified the way the Eagles have been playing.
“We’re pulling out those close games,” he said. “I like the team.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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