Extra inning win keeps McAuley perfect
PORTLAND—The McAuley softball team appeared to have its fifth successive victory wrapped up midway through Friday afternoon's contest against visiting Westbrook, but the win didn't wind up coming that easily.
That's because the Blue Blazes erased a 3-0 deficit with a four-run fifth inning, but the Lions rallied to tie in the bottom half of the inning and after scoreless sixth and seventh frames, McAuley finally put an end to the game in the eighth, loading the bases with one out before senior shortstop Kayla Daigle, who made a pivotal defensive play the inning before, singled to left-center to drive home senior second baseman Sara Mercier for a 5-4 triumph.
The 5-0 Lions got a gritty pitching performance from sophomore Gabby Townsend, another superb hitting game from junior centerfielder Shelby Bryant and capped a 3-0 week with the narrow victory, which dropped Westbrook to 3-4 on the year.
"It was definitely nerve-wracking," said Daigle. "We had to give it all we had. There was no letting down. They came back and stayed with us and we did what we had to do."
McAuley was the feel-good story of the 2010 season, winning a program-best 11 games before losing to eventual Class A champion South Portland in the quarterfinal round of the postseason.
So far in 2011, the Lions, who can no longer sneak up on the field, have done what it takes to emerge victorious, downing visiting Bonny Eagle in the opener (4-3), and winning decisively at Cheverus (9-1) prior to a successful run this week.
Monday, McAuley was tied with visiting Kennebunk entering the seventh inning, but Daigle gave her team a 3-2 victory when she scored on a Townsend bases loaded walk. The Lions then defeated host Sanford, 5-1.
Westbrook split its first six games, losing to Biddeford (5-2), beating Portland (9-6), falling to Scarborough (10-1) and South Portland (10-0) and downing Cheverus (3-0) and Bonny Eagle (2-1).
Last year, McAuley defeated the host Blue Blazes, 9-0.
This time around, it wouldn't be as easy.
The Lions did appear home free after a hot start. After Townsend walked Westbrook third baseman Katie Clark to start the game, she induced second baseman Haley Berry to bounce into a force play, as senior third baseman Maura Esten threw to Mercier. Clark then tried to steal, but was gunned down by sophomore catcher Sam Schildroth. Townsend fanned catcher Nicole Nutter to end the top of the frame.
McAuley grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom half as Bryant, one of the finest players in the region and the school's 2010 Spring Athlete of the Year, hit the first offering from Westbrook hurler Allie Lemay into centerfield for a single. Townsend followed with a sacrifice bunt and Bryant hustled to third on the play. Schildroth followed with a fly ball to left and Bryant raced home with the game's first run.
Townsend had no trouble in the top of the second, sandwiching two strikeouts around a routine fly ball. The Lions threatened in the bottom half as sophomore first baseman Molly Mack led off with a single and Esten sacrificed her to second, but Daigle flew out to left and senior rightfielder Jen Field struck out.
Schildroth again showed her defensive prowess in the top of the third. After Westbrook rightfielder Kaelyn Galipeau led off with a walk, Schildroth caught her napping and pegged a strike to Mack at first for a pickoff and out number one. Townsend struck out the next two hitters.
Leading off the bottom of the inning, Bryant launched a drive to right-center field and circled the bases for a 2-0 advantage.
The Blue Blazes finally got to Townsend in the fourth for a couple hits, singles by Clark and Nutter, but Schildroth again threw out Clark trying to steal and Townsend caught first baseman Kayla Winton looking for the third out.
With two outs in the bottom half of the fourth, Field reached on an error, stole second and came home on a Bryant double to left-center for a seemingly safe 3-0 lead.
Then came the top of the fifth where everything fell apart for McAuley.
The rally began when Westbrook centerfielder Katelyn Benson tripled over Libby's head. A single to center from shortstop Lindsey Driscoll got the visitors on the board. After Townsend fanned Galipeau, Lemay singled off Mercier's glove and a throwing error brought Driscoll home and put Lemay, the tying run, at third. Townsend got to the brink of escaping the jam with a strikeout of leftfielder Abby LeBlanc, but Clark walked and stole second and Berry followed with a blast to the right-center field gap. Bryant went all out and dove for the ball, but it barely eluded her glove. Lemay and Clark scored easily on the double and just like that, Westbrook had a 4-3 lead.
The Blue Blazes replaced Lemay with Kayla Tibbetts in the bottom of the fifth and the Lions rallied to tie as Townsend led off with a single, was wild pitched to second, moved to third on a groundout by Schildroth and scored when freshman Sam Libby grounded to second (and reached on an error). Libby was stranded when Mercier and Mack both grounded out.
Townsend worked out of another difficult situation in the top of the sixth as Winton reached on an error to lead off. The hurler then induced a groundball force out, a fly ball to rightfield and fanned Tibbetts looking to end the inning.
McAuley went quietly in the bottom half.
In the seventh, the Blue Blazes appeared to be in great shape as Lemay, leading off, blooped a single in front of Bryant in center, but in the defensive play of the game, Daigle came from nowhere to collect the ball, which had gotten past Bryant, turned and threw to Mercier, who tagged Lemay out trying to stretch the hit into a double.
"I was already running that way and I knew no one could have gotten there faster than I could," Daigle said. "I heard, '2' and was in a straight line with second base and figured I would throw it."
That out proved huge as Kayla Doiron (who had replaced LeBlanc in leftfield) followed with a walk. Townsend again worked out of the jam, getting Clark to bounce out to Mack unassisted and inducing Berry to fly harmlessly to Field.
McAuley was confident it would end the game in the bottom of the inning as Bryant led off, but for the only time all afternoon, she made an out, hitting a deep fly to center, but getting too much air under the ball for out number one. Townsend then belted a blast to deep left-center, but as she tried to stretch a double into a triple, she was gunned down at third. Schildroth was called out on strikes and an extra inning was needed to determine a winner.
"I thought we were winning it in the seventh," said Lions coach Robby Ferrante. "(Shelby) got on three times. What was I going to expect, four? I expect too much from her sometimes."
Heading on to the field for the top of the eighth, Bryant put her arm around Townsend's shoulder and appeared to calm the young pitcher, who might have been phased by being thrown out on the bases. Instead, she bore down and set Nutter down swinging, did the same with Winton, then threw her final pitch of the day, a called third strike to Benson.
"I was definitely nervous, but I knew my team could get it done offensively so I just shook it off and went out there and did my best," Townsend said. "We kind of broke down, but we got it back together and were able to get the outs. I think it shows that we don't back down and that we'll give it everything we can until the end."
That gave McAuley an opportunity to win and the Lions would do just that.
After Libby grounded out in a bang-bang play (short to first) to start the inning, Mercier got the rally started by beating out an infield single. Mack followed with a ringing single to left to put runners and first and second. Esten, a soccer standout (McAuley's Fall Athlete of the Year), in her first year of varsity softball, was next and she hit a soft ground ball to the hole between third and short. Clark grabbed the grounder and tried to outrace Mercier to the third base bag, but Mercier got there first, loading the bases.
That brought up Daigle, a member of the state champion basketball team, and she wasn't about to be denied. Daigle launched a fly ball to left-center that Benson appeared to have a bead on. As Mercier prepared to tag up, the ball landed safely on the grass and Mercier scored easily to bring the curtain down on the 5-4 victory.
"I was nervous, but I wanted to get a hit," said Daigle. "It felt good when it dropped in. Very good."
"I knew this would be a tough game," said Ferrante. "Westbrook's scrappy. We haven't put seven innings together yet. The one inning, they got the four. I didn't think Gabby was on like she has been, but she came up big in the seventh and eighth."
Townsend was solid for eight innings, dominant at times. She allowed four earned runs on seven hits with four walks and a wild pitch, but struck out 13 batters and improved to 4-0.
Offensively, McAuley got three hits from Bryant (including a double and a home run), two each from Mack, Mercier and Townsend (who doubled) and the biggest one, with the bases loaded from Daigle. Bryant scored twice, while Field, Mercier and Townsend each touched home plate once. Bryant drove in a pair, Daigle, Libby and Schildroth all had one RBI.
For Westbrook, Lemay gave up three runs (two earned) on five hits and two walks (with one strikeout) in her four inning, while Tibbetts (who took the loss and is now 3-4) surrendered two earned runs on five hits and a wild pitch (with two Ks) in 3.1 innings.
The Blue Blazes got two hits from Lemay and one apiece from Benson, Berry, Clark, Driscoll and Nutter. Benson, Clark, Driscoll and Lemay scored the runs. Berry had two RBI, Driscoll one. Berry doubled and Benson tripled.
Busy week ahead
Westbrook is back in action Monday at home versus Sanford.
McAuley hopes to keep its run going Tuesday when it plays at Windham in the first of four games on four successive days. Wednesday, the Lions host Noble, Thursday, they play a makeup game at Deering and Friday brings a trip to Marshwood.
McAuley's biggest remaining tests come May 23 at Scarborough and May 31 at home against South Portland.
"We're having fun," Townsend said. "We're having a good year."
"Teams know we'll come out hard," Daigle said. "Last year, it was a shock to them, but they know we'll do it again. We have a good group of girls and we want it. We know there are some solid teams. We believe if we give it everything and we keep on practicing, we'll give it a good fight."
"We'll do what we can," Ferrante added. "We know we can play."