Eagle softball downs Randolph, makes history with state championship title

POULTNEY — In the gathering twilight on Friday, the members of the Mount Abraham Union High School softball team shouted joyously in front the scoreboard at the Poultney Recreation Field: “We made history.”
That scoreboard read: Home: 4 — Guest: 2.
The top-seeded Eagles had survived No. 2 Randolph’s sixth-inning rally and earned the first-ever Division II championship for a program that had been knocking on the door for years — including in 2016, when many of the same athletes saw a late lead slip away in a heartbreaking one-run loss to Lyndon on the same field.
That setback served as motivation on Friday and during the regular season, when the 14-5 Eagles had a rough patch, losing five of their final nine games after starting 7-0, according to junior shortstop Katelynn Ouellette.
“I think we really wanted it. Coming back from last year when we didn’t have it, we just worked 10 times harder, 10 times better,” said Ouellette, who had a key RBI single on Friday and three hits as the Eagles rallied past Fair Haven in a tense Wednesday semifinal (see story). “And we worked together. That was a big thing. We worked together. It feels so good. I couldn’t be happier.”
To win on Friday, the Eagles also got clutch two-out RBI singles from sophomore No. 5 hitter Ruby Ball and senior No. 9 hitter Savannah Earley as they took a 3-0 lead after four innings.
In Wednesday’s dramatic victory, they rallied from a 5-3 deficit in the fifth when senior pitcher Rachael McCormick hit a tying two-out, two-run homer, and then junior Audrey Shahan plated the winning run with a pinch-hit single in the sixth, followed by a two-run Ouellette double.
McCormick said the big postseason hits were the product of the Eagles’ focus and confidence. 
“We went one pitch, one inning, everything one step at a time,” McCormick said. “Just focus, bear down. That’s what we were telling each other. We got this.”
Ouellette said the Eagles kept their emotions in check when the pressure was on.
“I think our emotion was just a lot better in the last couple games. We stopped thinking about the big games and what inning it was, what out it was, how many outs we needed. We just played the game like it was 0-0,” Ouellette said. “We just came in good with our emotions, and that really helped.”
Maybe the fact first-year Head Coach Don McCormick always had faith his team could win the title also helped, although he insisted he never shared that belief with them out loud.
“I had this expectation of them, to be honest with you. I’ve coached them and been around them since they were 7, 8 years old. They won a (Vermont) Little League championship. I just knew they would be back here (in the final). When we left here last year we knew we left something on the field,” said McCormick, who has coached many Eagles on travel teams as well as in youth programs. “There were times they could have lost focus, like they lost focus last year, and they played it out.”
   EAGLE KATELYNN OUELLETTE singled and drove in a run during Friday’s Division II state championship game against Randolph. Mount Abraham won the game, 4-2.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Friday’s first clutch hit vs. the 15-4 Ghosts came in the first inning. Sophomore Erika Tracey reached on an error and moved up on Rachael McCormick’s hit-and-run single. Tracey reached third with two outs on junior Jenna McCardle’s groundout, and Ball singled sharply up the middle to make it 1-0.
In the second, Shahan doubled up the right-center field gap off Ghost pitcher Jenna Sprague, and Ouellette singled her in to make it 2-0. In the fourth, Tracey legged out an infield hit and stole second, and Earley delivered the Eagles’ third two-out RBI hit, plating pinchrunner Molly Murray.
Through five innings, McCormick threw no-hit baseball. Nice defensive plays by McCardle in center, senior first baseman Megan McIntyre, and by McCormick, particularly on Anna Poulin’s third-inning bunt, kept the Ghosts off the bases except for two tough-chance infield errors in the fourth and a hit-batter in the fifth.
Then the Ghosts bunched all three of their hits and scored both of their runs in the sixth to make it 3-2. Sprague doubled to lead off, and with one out Emily Grady doubled her home and Mackenzie Rumrill singled sharply to plate Grady. McCormick responded by fanning the next batter and making a backhand stab of a grounder up the middle to end the threat.
The Eagles added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning. Ball walked and Tracey singled. Both runners were erased on fielder’s choices, putting senior catcher Genysis Berube on second and pinchrunner Jess Murray on first. After a wild pitch, Berube scored on a dropped popup. Sprague finished allowing two earned runs on seven hits and a walk; she did not strike out a batter.
McCormick then finished off her three-hitter with a drama-free 1-2-3 seventh that included her seventh strikeout. Afterward, she credited contributions from up and down the lineup and all over the field and the Eagles’ chemistry as the driving forces of the history-making title. 
   MOUNT ABRAHAM UNION High School junior Katelynn Ouellette just misses the tag at second base on Randolph’s Anna Poulin Friday night in Poultney.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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