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CAPE ELIZABETH — Two years of frustration came to a delicious end for the Cape Elizabeth softball team Monday afternoon when the Capers got a much needed win against defending Class B state champion Fryeburg.
Riding a clutch pitching performance from senior Trish Thibodeau and a consistent offensive attack against Raiders’ Seton Hall-bound senior pitcher Hannah Hill, Cape Elizabeth pulled out a 3-1 victory, its 11th win in 12 games this spring.
Cape Elizabeth scored single runs in the first, fifth and sixth innings and Thibodeau got out of jams in the first, sixth and seventh, leaving the tying runs on base to slam the door.
“It was an awesome battle,” said Thibodeau, the school’s reigning Spring Female Athlete of the Year. “We just came to play as a team. We all have the same goals and want to win. You couldn’t ask for a better game.”
The Capers beat Hill twice during her freshman year, 3-1 at home in the regular season and 2-1 (in nine innings) at home in the playoffs. They went on to win the 2007 Class B championship, but had no answer for Hill that season, losing 2-0 at Fryeburg. Last year, Cape Elizabeth fell 1-0 at Fryeburg in the regular season, then lost by the same score in the regional final.
This year, the Capers and Raiders were viewed as the top contenders in the region and neither team has done much to disappoint. Fryeburg won its first 11 games by a composite 105-2. Hill entered Monday’s game with just one earned run allowed and nearly two strikeouts for every one of her 66 innings pitched.
Cape Elizabeth shot to a 5-0 start as Thibodeau pitched five straight shutouts. On May 8, however, the Capers fell 3-1 at home to Wells, but since then, they won five straight as the offense became more and more productive.
Prior to the showdown, Cape Elizabeth spent plenty of time taking batting practice and it paid off big-time Monday.
While both elite pitchers had their moments, both offenses took center-stage early.
In the top of the first, Fryeburg centerfielder Brylie Walker hit the first pitch of the game into centerfield. Hill then walked and catcher Heather Tripp did the same to put the hosts on the ropes.
But Thibodeau rose to the occasion, fanning second baseman Ariel McConkey, third baseman Tanya Randall and designated player Anna Tupaj to get out of the jam.
“It was bad, but at the same time, I feel getting us out of that jam gave us so much more adrenaline and intensity for the rest of the game,” Thibodeau said.
The Capers offense then went to work. Senior shortstop Emily Richardson led off with a single to center. Senior catcher Colleen Martin sacrificed her to second and Richardson moved to third on an infield single by Thibodeau. Junior first baseman Delaney Rockwell then delivered the run with a ground ball to second (McConkey’s throw home was too late to nab Richardson) and the hosts were up 1-0.
“I think the momentum of bases loaded, nobody out and getting out of that jam carried over to the bottom of the inning,” said Cape Elizabeth coach Joe Henrikson. “We had legitimate, solid hits.”
Thibodeau returned to form in the top of the second, setting the side down in order with two strikeouts. Hill allowed a one-out walk in the bottom half, but got out of the inning with no further trouble.
In the top of the third, Hill walked with one out, but Tripp and McConkey both grounded out to the end the threat. Cape Elizabeth went down in order in its half of the inning.
Thibodeau continued to excel in the fourth, setting the Raiders down in order with two Ks. The Capers then added to their lead in the bottom of the inning.
The run was largely due to a sensational at-bat by junior third baseman Gabe Donahue. Donahue struck out looking in the first inning, but battled Hill through 14 pitches before ripping a single to right to get a rally started.
“I struck out my first at-bat and wasn’t about to let that happen again,” Donahue said. “I did everything I could to battle and came through.”
“That was an incredible at-bat,” Henrikson added.
Junior rightfielder Abby Flynn sacrificed Donahue to second and sophomore centerfielder Emily Donovan delivered the second run with a sharp single.
“I was thinking I needed to get her in,” Donovan said. “I was just trying to make contact. I knew we needed insurance.”
When Thibodeau set Fryeburg down in order in the fifth (on just three pitches), it appeared as if the Capers had a chance to pull away, but after Thibodeau reached second after a single and an error in the bottom half, Rockwell struck out looking to keep it a 2-0 game.
In the top of the sixth, the Raiders made noise for the first time since the first when Hill led off with a single to right-center and Tripp followed with a base hit to center to put the tying runs on base. Thibodeau then got McConkey to ground out, Randall to pop out, then fanned Tupaj to end the inning.
In the bottom of the inning, the Cape Elizabeth offense got the job done one more time. Donahue worked a walk to get things started, was sacrificed to second by Flynn, then scored on a ground single by Donovan to make it 3-0.
“I would have liked two runs, but three was awesome,” said Thibodeau. “Generally, for me, two runs and I’m all set.”
Fryeburg, which hadn’t trailed in a game this season prior to Monday, didn’t go quietly in the seventh. Pinch hitter Maggie McConkey led off with a single to center. Rightfielder Kelsey Sheehan then beat out an infield hit to bring the tying run to the plate. After Thibodeau got two outs, Hill came to the plate with a chance to pull her team even, but she only managed to beat out an infield hit to second to score a run and put runners on first and third. It then came down to Tripp, who hit a ground ball back to the mound. Thibodeau threw her out and the Capers celebrated their 3-1 victory.
“It feels really good,” said Donovan. “I was anxious to get it over with.”
“I had confidence in Trish,” Donahue added. “It was a good way to end the game. It was probably the best feeling I’ve ever had. I felt like everyone came today with the utmost intensity and we played as a team. We had three batting practices the past two days and everyone worked really hard. That made a difference. It really brings us confidence going into playoffs. This game will help us with that issue.”
Cape Elizabeth wound up with six hits. Donovan and Thibodeau both had a pair.
“We prepared a lot better for this game,” said Donovan. “We knew what we had to do. It’s a huge win. Now we know we can beat anyone. They were state champs last year. We might see them again. If we do, we’ll be ready.”
“I think honestly, we didn’t chase a lot of her stuff out of the strike zone,” Henrikson added. “A huge part was executing the bunt. We got people into scoring position and pushed the run across on three separate occasions. That’s good to see, especially against someone as good as Hannah Hill.”
Thibodeau allowed six runs and three walks in hurling her 10th shutout of the year on 87 pitches. She struck out eight batters.
Hill suffered her first loss with a six-hit, three-run, two-walk performance. She also threw a pair of wild pitches and struck out eight while throwing 107 pitches.
Rematch in store?
Monday’s win elevated the Capers to second in the latest Heal Points standings (one spot ahead of Fryeburg). Maranacook is first.
Cape Elizabeth will hope to build on its momentum Wednesday when it goes to red-hot Falmouth. The Capers host York Friday, then close the regular season next week with games at Wells (Monday) and at home with Greely (Wednesday).
Cape Elizabeth and Fryeburg (11-1) could very well meet again next month, but that potential showdown wouldn’t occur until the semifinals at the very earliest. If local softball fans are lucky, the Capers and Raiders will do battle for the second straight year with a state final berth on the line.
“This gives us such a confidence boost going into the playoffs,” Thibodeau said. “We need to continue this intensity the rest of the season. I knew we could win. It’s nice for the whole team to be able to see what we can do. I would like to play (Fryeburg) again.”
“It’s big,” added Henrikson. “We know we can compete with anybody. If we get out there and continue to improve and play our game, we’ll be fine.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com.
Junior Delaney Rockwell went all out to stop the ball during the seventh inning of Cape Elizabeth’s home showdown with Fryeburg Monday. (Jason Veilleux photo)
Capers’ senior ace Trish Thibodeau outpitched Fryeburg standout Hannah Hill to earn a 3-1 win. (Jason Veilleux photo)