By ANDY KIRKALDY
MIDDLEBURY — In a Tuesday duel between high school softball teams enjoying solid springs, host Middlebury claimed 6-3 win over Mount Abraham, leaving both teams’ records at 7-4.
The win avenged the Tigers’ 14-6 loss at Mount Abe last spring that had continued the Eagles’ recent success against MUHS.
Winning pitcher Lea Gipson, a junior who allowed two hits and five walks and struck out six, didn’t have an exactly accurate memory of the 2008 score, but summed up the Tigers’ feelings on Tuesday’s win perfectly.
“Last year we lost to them like 15-0, so it was good that we came back this year,” Gipson said.
Senior shortstop Mallory James’s two-run first-inning double (one of her three hits) sparked the MUHS offense. She said it was important for the Tigers to move three games over .500 and play a good game.
“We all came into this game knowing that it was a big game and that we had a good chance, but it would also have been a dangerous game if we had not played well,” James said. “So everyone was really relieved. We were really happy with how we played.”
Eagle coach Gene Bell’s Division II team has scored at least six runs in each of its wins, but only four runs in dropping its past two games. Bell credited Gipson for being “a little quicker” than the Eagles expected, but said his team will work hard to break out of its mini slump.
“We’ve been playing really well. It’s just the last couple of games the bats have headed south a little bit,” Bell said. “But we’re working at it.”
The Eagles were also a bit more generous in the field than Bell would have liked. In the first, Tiger leadoff hitter Mattea Bagley drew a walk from Eagle pitcher Lindsey Smith (five hits, four walks, two strikeouts). Brooke Connor bunted, and the runners ended up on second and third on an error. Both scored on James’s double to left. James made it 3-0 when Smith threw two of her four wild pitches.
Neither team scored again until the third, thanks in part to a fine running catch by Tiger right fielder Chelsea Drown on Eagle No. 4 hitter Julia Wilkinson’s drive to lead off the second.
The Eagles tied the game in the third. Laura Livingston walked, and Amber Fay legged out a bunt single. With two out, Shanna Gebo walked to load the bases. Wilkinson hit a drive to right center that this time Drown couldn’t handle, and all three runners scored on the miscue.
But that proved to be the only Tiger error, and MUHS made a couple fine plays: Connor at third base snared Courtney Jipner’s fifth-inning liner, and center fielder Kali Trautwein alertly caught a fly ball dropped by reserve outfielder Brooke Zeno in the sixth. Trautwein followed that grab up with a running catch in shallow center.
“Kali had a great defensive game. She saved our butt,” said MUHS coach Marie Eugair.
The Eagles made some good plays, too, with Smith throwing out several runners from the mound and Livingston playing well at shortstop. But two errors proved costly in the fourth, when MUHS scored twice.
Trautwein led off with a nubber that Smith couldn’t handle cleanly, and she soon stole second. Gipson sacrificed Trautwein to third, and she scored on a wild pitch. Vicky Davio walked, moved up on a Drown grounder, and scored on an error on Julia Dragon’s grounder. Bagley singled to keep the inning going, but Connor lined out to Fay at third.
The Tigers added their final run in the sixth. Zeno walked, moved to third on wild pitch and single by Dragon, and then scored on Connor’s RBI grounder.
Fay got her second hit of the game in the seventh, a two-out single, but Gipson got the last batter to pop out to the mound to seal the win.
Despite the setback, Bell said he is confident the Eagles will do well and could be heard from in the D-II postseason.
“I think we can bounce back. I really do. The girls are excited, and they’re ready to play,” he said.
With three wins in four tries, James said the Tigers are feeling optimistic — especially considering that MUHS was 6-11 in 2008.
“We didn’t have as good a record last year, so it’s really good,” James said. “We’re aiming high this year.”
The Tigers said a lot of the success has to do with positive attitude, which can be seen — and heard — in the way they chant in unison during games.
Eugair acknowledges that she borrowed the chants from her alma mater, Otter Valley, which is known for its constant cheering and chatter — and winning.
“They really said, ‘We want to cheer just like Otter Valley,’” she said. “And they love it. It really has brought our team together. (It’s) the little things that count, I guess.”
James said cheering makes a difference.
“It really keeps us up. It keeps us focused,” she said.
In all, Gipson said the Tigers are just enjoying themselves this spring.
“That’s a huge part of the season,” she said, “just having fun and going out and playing the game that we love.”
Audio interviews and a slide show of photos from this game will be available online at www.addisonindependent.com.