Stellar pitching, hot offense lift Eagle softball over Cougars

BRISTOL — The Mount Abraham Union High School softball team rode a dazzling pitching performance and a late offensive outburst past visiting Mount Mansfield on Saturday, 13-0.
Senior pitcher Ruby Ball almost singlehandedly made sure the Eagles wouldn’t drop their second straight game after a disappointing 4-1 loss at Otter Valley two days before.
Ball allowed just one hit and faced the 21-batter minimum, walking none and striking out 14. The lone hit came with one out in the first inning, Katherine Likhite’s soft, opposite-field liner that dropped just fair, about 10 feet behind the first-base bag. But catcher Abby Hoff quickly erased Likhite from the basepaths by catching her stealing.
It was the first time Division I Mount Mansfield (5-5) had been shut out this season. Eagle Coach Don McCormick said Ball has worked hard on the side in recent days, and after a rough first inning vs. OV on Thursday has found a groove.
“She’s capable of that against anybody,” McCormick said. “We’ve been trying to pound the strike zone more. Earlier in the season we were trying to work around certain hitters, and she’s proven the 3, 4, 5 hitters aren’t hurting her. She’s starting to get her drop-ball, her curveball and change-up over the plate now.”
The Eagles improved to 7-3, and the two-time defending D-II champions are back in a familiar position despite significant 2018 graduation losses — first place in D-II. McCormick said a tough schedule lies ahead, and he won’t guarantee the Eagles will hold onto the top spot in a more crowded race than in past years: Springfield and Enosburg are nipping at the Eagles’ heels.
But he believes they should be in the hunt with a little more intensity and offensive consistency. 
“We’re getting there. I feel good,” McCormick said. “I feel we’ll be a top-four seed, and hopefully we’ll host at least two playoff games, and we’ll see what happens.”
While Ball was mowing down the Cougars, it took the Eagle offense a while to get going against Cougar curveballer Grace Solod, who like OV pitcher Morgan LaPorte relies more on guile than speed. Solod kept the Eagles off balance for four innings by getting them to chase curves on the outside corner or off the plate.
Mount Abe picked up single runs in the first and second innings. In the first Jess Murray singled, stole second, moved up on a Ball groundout, and scored on a wild pitch. In the second, Camilienne Masse — who led the Eagles with three hits — tripled with two outs and scored on another wild pitch. But through four innings Mount Abe had just three hits and had scored just twice even though Solod walked two and hit a batter.
Then the Eagles used four hits, two errors, a walk and a passed ball to score six times in the fifth. The first big blow was Erika Tracey’s towering triple to left-center, which drove in courtesy runner Karissa Livingston, who entered after Ball had walked, and Addy Harris, who singled. Tracey hustled around to score on the play when the Cougars botched the relay from the outfield, and it was 5-0.
With two outs, Carly Counter reached on an error to restart the rally, Masse singled, and Hoff launched a booming opposite-field triple to right to plate both of them. Courtesy runner Liz Porter then scored on a passed ball to cap the rally and make it 8-0.
The Eagles added five runs in the sixth as they fully solved Solod. Singles by Ball, Cora Funke, Sam Rathbun, Shealyn Layn and Masse and a wild pitch produced the first four runs, and the fifth scored on an error on a ball hit by Hoff.    EAGLE SOPHOMORE KARISSA Livingston rounds third on her way home during Mount Abe’s win over Mount Mansfield Union High School on Saturday.
Independent photo/Steve James
This spring the Eagles have not always scored runs in bunches the way they have in the past few seasons. But McCormick sees signs they are on the right track, especially with senior twins Jess and Molly Murray providing a steady lift at the top of the order.   
“We’ve had four or five kids get hot, and kids we rely on in the past have been cold. And then the kids we rely on get hot and the others drop off. Something that’s been very consistent is the twins score a lot of runs for us, and their on-base percentage is crazy,” he said. “Once we start hitting together we’re going to start putting up the runs we normally do.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
   JUNIOR CARLY COUNTER gets back to first base in time to beat the throw during Mount Abe’s win over Mount Mansfield in Bristol on Saturday.
Independent photo/Steve James

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