Eagle softball rallies past Slaters in D-II semifinal
BRISTOL — In a back-and-forth Division II high school softball semifinal on Wednesday, host No. 1 Mount Abraham struck the decisive blows to survive No. 4 Fair Haven’s comeback, 8-5.
The 13-5 Eagles will meet No. 2 Randolph (15-3) for the title in Poultney at 6 p.m. on Friday. The Slaters finished at 12-6.
On Wednesday the Slaters scored four runs in the fifth to take a 5-3 lead in a rally that started with two outs and the bases empty. After a walk to No. 9 hitter Sydney Bennett, Fair Haven scored the inning’s first run on a bunt single by Jo Hanna Morse on which the Eagles made a throwing error.
A dropped throw then allowed Paige Manley to reach and put two runners on base. The Slaters’ best hitter, junior Olivia Bowen, tied the game with a bunt single on a two-strike pitch, and the runners reached second and third on the throw home. Both scored when two Eagle outfielders collided going after Liz Muratorri’s fly ball.
A game that had seemed in the Eagles’ control with senior ace Rachael McCormick firing on all cylinders — she finished with 15 strikeouts, mixing in a deadly changeup with her fastballs and curves and allowing four hits and two walks — had suddenly swung in the Slaters’ favor. And their ace, Bowen, was also throwing well.
But the Eagles answered. Junior shortstop and leadoff hitter Katelynn Ouellette (three hits, two runs, two RBIs) drilled a one-out single in the bottom of the fifth to bring the tying run two the plate. With two out, McCormick — and her .667 average entering the game — came to the plate.
Coach Don McCormick said for most of the season his daughter had served as a table-setter, but the Slater outfield was not respecting her power. McCormick drilled the first pitch down the left-field line far out of the left fielder’s reach and raced around the bases, sliding in safely for the game-tying home run.
“He told me hit the ball. So, I was like, OK, I guess I’ve got to hit the ball,” Rachael McCormick said after the game. “That felt pretty nice. Honestly, when I got up to bat I was just looking at her hip, where the ball was going to come out, and I was like, ‘See ball, hit ball.’”
The Eagles kept coming in the sixth. With one out, Erika Tracey laced a single, and Jess Murray pinch-ran. Genysis Berube sacrificed, and the throw to first went wild, putting the runners on second and third. Coach McCormick sent up Audrey Shahan to pinch-hit, and she dropped a single into left-center to score Murray with the go-ahead run. Ouellette followed by blooping a two-run double into right center.
McCormick then nailed down the win in the seventh, allowing only a two-out single to Manley. Ouellette got the final out by making a fine play on a Bowen grounder that McCormick deflected.
The Eagles scored solo runs in the first, when Emily Aldrich doubled home Ouellette, who walked and stole second; in the second, when Tracey reached on an error, stole two bases and scored on Jasmin Giles’ infield hit; and in the fourth, when Aldrich walked after the Slaters dropped two foul popups, stole second and scored on an infield error.
“If you make mistakes, you don’t win softball games,” said Slater Coach Bill Jones.
But Jones credited the Eagles, who finished with eight hits, three for extra bases, off Bowen, who struck out eight and walked two.
“They hit Olivia very well. You can’t take that away from them,” he said. “That’s a good-hitting team, and that’s one of the best pitchers we’ll ever see.”
The Slaters got their first run in the third. McCormick hit Katrina Bean with a pitch, and she stole second and scored on Bennett’s RBI single. McCormick walked Morse with one out, but retired Manley and Bowen to end the threat.
Coach McCormick said he believed it was important to keep Bowen and cleanup hitter Muratorri in check, which his pitcher did by mixing her offerings.
“They’re the top two hitters on that team,” he said. “We kept them off balance with the changeup.”
Rachael McCormick said it was also important for the Eagles to keep their poise when the Slaters rallied.
“We got a little frustrated, but we pulled it together. We took a deep breath,” she said. “We did a little meditation-type thing. We breathed in, we breathed out, and then we just calmed all our nerves. It was quite the nerve-wracking game.”
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