Eagle softball rises to the occasion; defeats Slaters for D-II state title

CASTLETON — Mount Abraham Union High School softball pitcher Audrey Shahan did just about everything one could ask during Friday’s Division II tile game against Fair Haven at Castleton University.
She began by singing the national anthem and then went on to deliver a nine-strikeout, complete-game performance in leading the No. 1 Eagles to a 6-4 win over the No. 2 Slaters and their second-straight title.
Shahan also collected two hits and two RBIs in her own support.
It’s a wonder she didn’t also sell concessions between innings.
“Fair Haven was by far the toughest team we’ve played, and I thought they did incredibly well,” a jubilant Shahan said afterward. “But what we had above them was our ability to bounce back. We were all kind of nervous when they had that home run, but we went ‘next man up.’ That’s our saying in the dugout.”
The 18-2 Eagles knew they were going to get a tougher game from the Slaters than in the semifinals from Enosburg, a team they crushed, 29-2. The 16-4 Slaters played a weaker schedule than the Eagles, but taking the mound for Fair Haven was ace Olivia Bowen, owner of more than 700 career strikeouts.
Shahan set the tone in the top of the first, setting the Slaters down in order, striking out two and getting a groundout from leftfielder Kassidy Mack.
Mount Abe took a 1-0 lead in the bottom half of the frame. Shortstop Katelynn Ouellette singled to left and centerfielder Jenna McArdle doubled to left, sending Ouellette to third. Ouellette then scored on Shahan’s sacrifice fly.
Neither team mustered a run in the second. The Slaters notched their first hit — a two-out bloop single to right field — by designated hitter Kelsey Lafaso.
Bowen made quick work of the Eagles in the bottom of the second. Right fielder Jess Murray struck out, left fielder Ruby Ball flied out to center, and third baseman Erika Tracy fanned. Bowen, like Shahan, whiffed nine.
Shahan got the Slaters in order in the top of the third inning, with two strikeouts and a groundout.
This set the stage for the Eagles’ best offensive output of the game in the bottom of the frame.
With one out, Ouellette reached on an error and advanced to second on a passed ball. Emily Aldrich walked, and with two outs and runners at first and second, Shahan doubled down the leftfield line, scoring Ouellette, with Aldrich advancing to third. Molly Murray stepped in as pinch runner for Shahan.
Brooke Perlee then doubled to right center, scoring Aldrich and Murray. Bowen got a groundout to end the inning, but the damage was done: At the end of three innings, it was Mount Abe 4, Fair Haven 0.
Both teams went quietly in the fourth. The Slaters squeezed in a single, by Cassidy Lanfear, among three strikeouts, with many of the hitters tricked by Shaman’s lethal changeup.
Mount Abe mustered a walk by Ball in the bottom of the inning, to go along with two strikeouts and a pop-up.
The fifth inning proved productive for both teams.
With two outs Slater second baseman Zoey Cole crushed a no-doubter over the leftfield fence for the Slaters’ first run of the day.
The Eagles answered with two of their own in the inning to make it 6-1.
Aldrich singled to center field, and she scored on McArdle’s second double. Shahan then singled through the right side of the infield, chasing McArdle to third. Molly Murray again ran for Shahan, and promptly stole second. Perlee singled to short, scoring McArdle, to give the Eagles the five-run lead. The Eagles couldn’t put up a crooked number, however, as Bowen dug deep to prevent further damage with a fielder’s choice and two strikeouts.
Fair Haven didn’t go quietly, closing the gap to 6-4 in the top of the sixth inning.
With one out, Mack reached first on a hit-by-pitch. Bowen doubled to center, sending Mack to third. Shahan intentionally walked Lanfear to load the bases. Sydney Rathbun then singled to right field, and three runs scored with the aid of an outfield miscue. But Shahan bore down to get two groundouts to limit the damage to three runs.
   MOUNT ABRAHAM UNION High School senior Brooke Perlee, above, slides safely into third base during Friday’s championship game against Fair Haven. Below left, Eagle senior Jenna McArdle makes the final out in Friday’s Division II championship game against Fair Haven. The Eagles won the game, 6-4.
Photos by Mark Bouvier
Mount Abe showed some promise in its half of the sixth, but failed to take advantage of Ouellette’s one-out double.
Shahan and her defense made sure there would be no suspense during the Slater seventh, as Shahan set Fair Haven down in order on a strikeout, a grounder to Aldrich at second and a fly to McArdle in center field.
The offensive stars for the Eagles were Perlee (two hits, three RBIs), Shahan and Ouellette (two hits, two runs scored), and McArdle (two hits and an RBI).
It proved to be epic playoff run for the Eagles, who outscored their opponents by a combined total of 69-6. For the second year, second-year Eagles Coach Don McCormick’s team delivered a title, and he hopes to extend the mini-dynasty into a third year.
He praised his players, beginning with Shahan.
“She kept battling,” McCormick said. “She’s not overpowering, but her changeup is really good.”
“Everything I’ve asked her to do this year she’s done it,” he added.
He gave kudos to the opposing pitcher for her performance, and noted Bowen and McCormick’s daughter Rachael will be playing softball at Castleton next year.
“We came into the game knowing Olivia does not walk people, and we can’t do the things we’re able to do against some of the other pitchers we see,” McCormick said.
But the Eagles ultimately figured her out, as they did most pitchers they saw all year. It’s tough to keep so many quality bats at bay.
“I’ve got kids in that dugout that are batting .400,” McCormick said.
As critical as Perlee’s three RBIs proved to be, McCormick most appreciated her defense at catcher.
“(Perlee) controlled the game defensively when they had runners on base,” he said. “They didn’t even try to juke on the base paths.”
Perlee, a senior — like Shahan, Ouellette, McArdle and Aldrich — will be heading off to Norwich University. She’ll carry fond memories of her Eagle softball career.
“We overcame a lot together,” she said, calling this year’s final “probably the most intense (game of the season).”
Ouellette is heading to Castleton. She’s not sure if she’ll be playing softball there.
She gave props to the Slaters for their tenacity.
“They didn’t let us get ahead as far as other teams, and they stayed right up there with us in the game,” Ouellette said.
But she and her teammates were confident even when the Slaters rallied.
“Our team stays together, we pick each other up, nothing like that gets us down, that’s why we come out like this,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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