Eagles bash their way back to D-II title game
BRISTOL — The 15-run mercy rule does not apply after the first round of the Vermont high school softball playoffs, but if Vermont Principals’ Association officials review the video of Tuesday’s Division II semifinal between No. 1 Mount Abraham and No. 4 Enosburg they might consider changing it.
By the time Eagle senior shortstop Katelynn Ouellette tripled home three runs to top off the defending champion Eagles’ six-run fourth inning they led by 21-1.
It didn’t get better for the visiting Hornets after that. By the time the Eagles finished drilling 22 hits, seven for extra bases, and benefitting from 12 walks and a dozen wild pitches from two Enosburg hurlers, they had won, 29-2, even with Coach Don McCormick substituting freely and telling his runners not to score on fly balls and wild pitches.
The win was the 17-2 Eagles’ eighth straight, and their only two losses have been to D-I Missisquoi, and Mount Abe is 7-2 vs. D-I teams. Enosburg fell to 15-3, but played a schedule that included 11 D-III or D-IV teams and lost to the only D-I team it faced, Lyndon.
The Eagles will face a stiffer challenge in the D-II championship game, which will be played at 5 p.m. on Friday at Castleton University: No. 2 Fair Haven (16-3) edged No. 6 Randolph, 6-5, in the other semi.
The Eagles and Slaters, who feature 700-strikeout senior ace Olivia Bowen, have met in the semifinal round each of the past two years, with Mount Abe winning tight games each time — a year ago Mount Abe rallied for an 8-5 victory on the way to the program’s first-ever state championship title.
MEMBERS OF THE Mount Abraham Union High School softball team cheer from the dugout during Tuesday’s Division II semifinal game against Enosburg Falls. The Eagles won the game, 29-2.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Against the Hornets on Tuesday, Eagle senior pitcher Audrey Shahan continued her playoff dominance, although she surrendered her first run in three outings; in the fourth inning Hornet Emily Lussier walked, stole second, and scored when Liza Blake’s ground ball bounced up the middle. In all Shahan allowed three singles and two walks and struck out four before sophomore Ruby Ball allowed one run in two innings of relief.
Shahan, who also knocked in four runs and singled three times as the cleanup spot hitter, said the Eagles have not looked ahead this spring to what many have expected all along, a meeting with Fair Haven for the title — and that has been one of the secrets to their success.
“We really focused on each game. And what we’ve really done to do that is get each other amped up. We text each other the night before a game to say, ‘All right, guys, another game tomorrow,’” Shahan said. “It’s things like that that really make the difference, having really productive practices and really defining what it means to be a team.”
Shahan has also bounced back from a tough late-season outing at Middlebury in which the Eagles rallied to win behind Ball with four straight pitching victories. She credits a better pitch mix, especially an increased use of her changeup, which was particularly effective vs. Enosburg.
“I’m definitely mixing in my changeup a lot, because that seems to really confuse people. But sometimes I’ll do it the first pitch, sometimes the third,” she said. “I try to make things random, so there’s not a set pattern.”
McCormick also noted Shahan’s velocity has ticked back upward as she recovers from back tightness, and said he is confident in his team’s pitching, defense and hitting going against the Slaters and Bowen, a four-year varsity pitcher who has committed to Castleton University.
“If we hit Olivia we win that game. (We have to) be aggressive. She doesn’t walk anybody. We can’t sit there and take pitches and wave the bat around, because she’s been there and done that,” he said. “But I’ve got a really good hitting team, and the pressure is kind of on her.”
EAGLE SENIOR JENNA McArdle scores from third on a wild pitch during Tuesday’s game against Enosburg Falls.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Certainly Enosburg won’t argue against McCormick’s description of the Eagle offense. In the first inning nine of the first 10 batters reached and scored against losing pitcher Rylee Combs, who allowed 25 runs on 18 hits, 10 walks, a hit batter and 11 wild pitches in four-plus innings. Senior Emily Aldrich doubled in the first run, freshman Camilienne Masse drilled a three-run double, and Shahan capped the rally with a two-run single.
The Eagles parlayed three walks and RBI singles by senior Erika Tracey, Aldrich and Masse, into five runs in the second inning. Masse lined a solo homer in the third, and triples by Aldrich, senior Jenna McCardle and Ouellette highlighted their six-run fourth.
Combs mercifully left the mound in the fifth after walking two, tossing three wild pitches and allowing RBI triples to senior Brooke Perlee and sophomore Addy Harris. Kayla Lovelette relieved and allowed an unearned run on an RBI single to Aldrich that made it 27-1.
Enosburg got a run in the sixth when Ball walked Lussier and she eventually stole home after the Eagles picked her off third, but Lussier eluded them in the rundown. Ball got defensive help from two outstanding catches by sophomore rightfielder Justice Green. Mount Abe added its final two runs in the sixth on a Molly Murray single, an Ally Hoff double, a groundout and a wild pitch.
By then the Eagles and their coach were thinking about Friday.
McCormick said the Eagles chemistry on the field as well as talent will help them.
“I feel really confident in this group,” he said. “When they’re out there they play together. They’ve got each others’ backs.”
Shahan explained the Eagles’ plan.
“Get sleep. Lots of focus. We’re really going to focus on the game. We’ve made it this far,” she said. “For the seniors we’ve been playing since we were four. And we’re going to do the best we can. That’s all we can do.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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