Eagle softball holds on to knock off Tigers in a slugfest

MIDDLEBURY — After the Mount Abraham and Middlebury union high school softball teams finished trading heavy punches on Tuesday, the Eagles emerged standing after surviving a late Tiger flurry, 12-9.
Of the 14 total hits between the teams, three were homers — by Tigers Ashley Sunderland and Gwen Stafford and Eagle Cami Willsey — and four were doubles, three by the Eagles and one by the Tigers.
Eagle Coach Don McCormick saw his team improve to 11-4, and the Eagles can sew up the No. 1 seed in Division II by defeating Spaulding for a second time this spring on Thursday, this time in Bristol.
MOUNT ABE FRESHMAN Cami Willsey crushes a three-run home run to put the visiting Eagles ahead in Tuesday’s game against Middlebury Union High School. Willsey had come into the game to replace pitcher Ruby Ball, earning the save as Mount Abe won, 12-9.
Independent photo/Steve James
McCormick praised the Tigers for fighting back from a 10-2 fifth-inning deficit against his ace pitcher, senior Ruby Ball.
“They really hit the ball,” he said. “They’re a good team.”
At the same time, the Eagles showed patience against the Tiger No. 1, Stafford, who threw hard but at times struggled to find the strike zone, walking five and throwing four wild pitches in 4.1 innings. She allowed all eight Eagle hits and 10 earned runs before senior Aby LaRock came on and threw well for the final 2.2 innings, allowing no hits and two unearned runs.
McCormick said the Eagles have finally been able to adapt successfully to both harder throwers like Stafford and to the softer serves from other pitchers.
MIDDLEBURY PITCHER GWEN Stafford slides into second too late to beat the throw to Mount Abe’s Cami Willsey during the Tigers’ late-game rally, which fell short as the Eagles won, 12-9, on Tuesday.
Independent photo/Steve James
“We’re starting to hit the ball. We’re starting to adjust back and forth to what we’re seeing for pitching,” McCormick said.
Stafford tossed a 1-2-3 first inning and gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead by leading off the bottom of the inning with an inside-the-park homer to deep right. Ball also struggled with her control, hitting two batters and walking one in the first, but struck out a batter to escape the jam.
The Eagles then plated three runs in the second. Ball singled, and Sam Rathbun lined a double down the left-field line. Abby Hoff plated Ball with an RBI grounder, and Erika Tracey doubled home Rathbun. Camilienne Masse capped the rally with an RBI single.
The Eagles added two more in the second. Jess Murray and Ball walked and moved up to second and third on a wild pitch. Rathbun scored Murray on fielder’s choice grounder that erased Ball at third on a tag play, and Hoff doubled Rathbun in.
MIDDLEBURY UNION HIGH School senior Ashley Sunderland trots across home plate after hitting a home run that helped the Tigers rally and close in on a big Mount Abe lead on Tuesday.
Independent photo/Steve James
Meanwhile Ball settled down, allowing only an unearned run in the fourth. Kyra Roberts reached second on an error and advanced to third on a wild pitch. With one out Harley Williams walked and stole second. Katelyn Stearns drove in Roberts with a ground out, but Masse, the first baseman, threw out Williams trying to reach third on the play to end the threat.
The Eagles then pushed across five runs in the top of the fifth. Ball singled, and Hoff and Tracey walked. Masse singled in two runs, and McCormick sent in Willsey to pinch-hit. It was a good decision: The freshman delivered a towering home run to center field, ending Stafford’s outing and making it 10-2. LaRock came on to get the final two outs.
The Tigers fought back in the bottom of the fifth. Stafford singled, but was erased when Taylor Sylvester hit into a fielder’s choice. Carly Larocque then reached on a throwing error, and a wild pitch put runners on second and third. LaRock lined a single to center, and both runners raced home. A walk to Sunderland and another wild pitch moved LaRock to third, and Roberts drove her in with a groundout to make it 10-5.
TIGER SENIOR ASHLEY Sunderland is all smiles in the dugout after crushing a home run in Tuesday’s Senior Game in Middlebury against Mount Abe.
Independent photo/Steve James
The Eagles scored an unearned run in the sixth, with a Rathbun grounder plating Ball after she reached on an error.
Then the Tigers landed a couple more punches in the bottom of the inning.
With two outs, Sylvester doubled, and Larocque singled her home. An error put LaRock on, and Sunderland followed with a majestic shot over the left-field fence to score three more runs and make it 11-9. McCormick called for Willsey, and she got the final out of the inning on one pitch, inducing a pop-up to Masse.
The Eagles picked a key insurance run in the seventh. Tracey — who played another outstanding defensive game at third base — reached on an error, moved to second on a groundout, stole third, and scored on a Willsey groundout.
AFTER FORCING OUT Middlebury base runner Katelyn Stearns at first, Mount Abe sophomore Camila Masse fires to third for a double play in Tuesday’s 12-9 Eagles win in Middlebury. 
Independent photo/Steve James
The Tigers managed a hit vs. Willsey in the seventh, a Williams single, but the freshman struck out one, got a groundout and another infield pop-up to earn the save.
McCormick said he will be happy to have just one game between this past Tuesday and the opening of the playoffs next week after Ball pitched three games in four days late last week due to weather rescheduling.
“Last week killed us, those four games in a row,” he said. “But everybody’s in the same boat.”
Meanwhile, the 5-6 Tigers are in the middle of a tough final week. On Tuesday they played D-II’s top team. On Thursday, they are set to travel to face D-I’s second-place team, Missisquoi (13-1), and on Saturday at 11 a.m. they will wrap up by hosting D-III’s top team, Fairfax (11-2).
THE MOUNT ABE dugout kept up a barrage of chants and cheers to support Eagles teammates as the visitors beat Middlebury Union High School, 12-9, on Tuesday.
Independent photo/Steve James
As for the Eagles, they will be seeking their third straight D-II title and fourth-straight appearance in the championship game. At times, McCormick said, it has felt like they have been on cruise control during the regular season, but he believes they will be ready for the postseason.
“It’s a little bit of the Golden State Warriors. Let’s get through the season and get to the four-game run,” he said. “I think they’re going to be fine. I think they’re waiting for the playoffs.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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