Eagle softball pulls out wild quarterfinal
BRISTOL — For some of Saturday’s Division II home quarterfinal against No. 7 U-32, the second-seeded Mount Abraham Union High School softball team didn’t look like a three-time defending champion.
Maybe it was the first-round bye that meant a nine-day layoff, or the nearly hour-long rain delay. There were baserunning mistakes. Popups on 3-0 counts. Weak swings on the soft offerings of Raider pitcher Grace Johnson. A couple fielding miscues.
Meanwhile U-32 (9-6) was swinging the bat well and making plays in the field. The Raiders scored two in the first, two in the third and one in the fifth, with standout catcher and leadoff hitter Sage Winner sparking the rallies. The visitors led, 5-1, after five innings.
But good teams find ways to win, and Mount Abe did, 6-5 in eight innings.
At the top of the list of many Eagle contributors were two sophomores: third baseman Payton Vincent, who tied the game at 5-5 with a two-out, two-run single in the sixth, and then stroked a walk-off single in the bottom of the eighth, and Cami Willsey.
Willsey moved from behind the plate to the mound in the top of the eighth with Raider runners on second and third and none out. She replaced sophomore starter Eve McCormick, who pitched well, allowing nine hits and three earned runs while striking out eight and walking none.
Willsey then stranded the runners by striking out the next two hitters with pure heat and retiring the third on a grounder to second baseman Madelyn Hayden to set the stage for the Eagle victory.
“Cami Willsey came in and shut the door,” said Coach Donnie McCormick. “Eve battled through. She didn’t have her best stuff today, but she battled through.”
McCormick acknowledged the Eagles were not their sharpest earlier on.
“Obviously having a nine-day layoff between games and having that bye is not a great thing for a team that is used to playing,” McCormick said.
But the 15-2 Eagles will play another day, in a Tuesday semifinal at 4:30 p.m. against visiting No. 3 Enosburg. The Eagles, a team with just two seniors, and the 13-2 Hornets split two one-run games this spring.
“We’re just really glad to keep going with this young team. We’re just thrilled we’ve got another shot to go another step,” McCormick said.
He also credited U-32’s play on Saturday.
“That’s a good hitting team. They made probably more plays in the field, admittedly by their coach, than they have in a long time,” he said.
The Raiders started causing trouble when Winner led off the game with an infield single. After an infield throwing error put a second runner on, U-32 clean-up hitter Allie Guthrie laced a two-run double to deep left center.
Winner started more trouble in the third with another infield hit. McCormick hit the next batter, and center fielder Elizabeth Guthrie (who had robbed sophomore Lucy Parker to end an Eagle threat the previous inning) singled in Winner.
Eagle senior center fielder Karissa Livingston then made her own fine running catch of Allie Guthrie’s liner, but it went for a sacrifice fly that made it 4-0.
The Eagles got one run back in the fourth, but could have had more. The inning opened with a hit batter and Winner picking off the courtesy runner. Vincent followed with a double, and a walk to McCormick and sophomore Natalie Chase’s infield hit loaded the bases.
The next batter popped out on a 3-0 pitch, but Johnson hit Parker with a pitch to force in Vincent before retiring the side.
The Raiders got that run back in the fifth. Winner reached on another infield hit and came around on a stolen base, wild pitch and groundout, and it was 5-1.
The Eagles wasted Livingston’s leadoff double and two walks in the fifth, with another easy out on a 3-0 count factoring in, but got to Johnson in the sixth.
Eagle sophomore Gabrielle LaFreniere walked and moved to third on a wild pitch and groundout. Hayden singled to score LaFreniere, then Livingston walked and Bella Powell singled to load the bases. Willsey scored Livingston with a sacrifice fly, and the runners moved to second and third on the throw home. Vincent then laced a single to score both and tie the game.
The Raiders put two runners on base in the top of the seventh, but Chase at first base made a fine stab of Allie Guthrie’s hard ground ball to end the threat.
The Eagles loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the inning and looked poised to win, but the Raiders turned a Livingston line drive into an unassisted double play to force extra innings.
Kaelyn Howard doubled to lead off the U-32 eighth, and Caitlin McGinley followed with an infield hit and stole second, putting two runners in scoring position.
McCormick decided it was time for Willsey, and it was proved to be a wise coaching move: Two Raiders went down hacking helplessly and the third rolled a weak grounder.
It took three batters for the Eagles to celebrate. Powell reached on a miscue, Johnson was hit by a pitch, and the right batter came to the plate. Vincent drilled a clean single up the middle, and a joyous knot of teammates soon surrounded her.
Now, McCormick said the Eagles will look forward to Tuesday’s game with Enosburg.
Then he laughed and said the team will go over a few fundamentals before the semifinal:
“We can review a lot of things at practice on Monday, can’t we?”
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