STANDISH—From the depths of despair to the brink of immortality, the history girls from Yarmouth have enjoyed quite a ride.
And the Clippers aren’t done yet.
Entering the postseason, Yarmouth’s softball team had never been to a Western Class B Final, even though the Clippers came agonizingly close a year ago before letting a five-run lead in the final inning slip away in a semifinal loss to Cape Elizabeth.
From the ashes of that heartache, Yarmouth became a power this spring and Tuesday evening, at Richard W. Bailey Field, on the campus of St. Joseph’s College, the Clippers wrote the finest and most inspirational chapter in program history.
Holding off pedigreed Fryeburg Academy in a regional championship game that was taut from the first pitch to the last.
Yarmouth junior ace pitcher Mari Cooper set the tone by setting the seventh-ranked Raiders down in order in the top of the first and in the bottom half, the fourth-seeded Clippers got the only run they’d need and the only run of the game when junior third baseman Cat Thompson singled home sophomore shortstop Andrea St. Pierre.
Cooper worked out of trouble in the second, third, fourth, fifth and finally seventh innings with the final frame being the most nervewracking.
Cooper surrendered a leadoff single and another batter reached on a one-out error, but Cooper, who was on the mound for last year’s collapse and needed weeks to overcome it, fanned the game’s final two hitters and Yarmouth won its first regional title, 1-0.
Cooper threw a four-hit shutout, striking out seven, and the Clippers improved to 16-3, ended Fryeburg Academy’s Cinderella run at 13-7 and advanced to meet defending state champion Hermon (17-2) in the Class B state final Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at St. Joe’s.
“We just made Yarmouth history and that’s such a huge thing,” Cooper said. “Making history is great. It’s something we’ll never forget.”
Yarmouth’s 2014 season ended with the most gutwrenching loss in program history, a 9-8 semifinal round setback at Cape Elizabeth in a game which saw the Clippers take an 8-3 lead to the seventh inning, but fail to close it out.
While the setback was unbearable at the time, Yarmouth turned it into a positive.
“If I had known last year that we’d come this far this year, I would have looked at that loss differently,” Thompson said. “We definitely learned from it. It was embedded in our brain. We didn’t want that to happen again.”
“Having it ripped away like that last year was worse than being mercy-ruled, but we learned a lot of lessons from that game, to never get too excited and to keep your composure through every out,” Clippers senior catcher and captain Kallie Hutchinson said. “Mari, Cat, (senior captain) Michelle (Robichaud) and I talk before every game about not letting that happen again.”
This season, Yarmouth excelled most of the way and earned the No. 4 seed before blanking No. 5 Leavitt (6-0) and top-ranked Greely (7-0) in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, to reach the Western B Final for the first time.
Fryeburg Academy went 10-6 in the regular season, then downed No. 10 Morse (12-0 in five innings) in the preliminary round, upset No. 2 York (4-0) in the quarterfinals, then held off sixth-ranked Gray-New Gloucester in Saturday’s semifinals, 3-2, in eight innings. The Raiders reached the state final four times in five years between 2008 and 2012 and won it all in 2008, 2009 and 2011.
Yarmouth downed Fryeburg Academy, 9-7, way back on May 1 in Fryeburg. The teams had no playoff history.
Tuesday’s game appeared in jeopardy with rain during the day, but the sun had broken out by gametime and the field was ready for play.
So were both teams, who produced a taut contest.
Cooper started the game by getting junior second baseman Julia Quinn to bunt back to her in the air for out number one. Sophomore centerfielder Mackenzie Buzzell then ripped a shot to right-center, but junior centerfielder Colleen Sullivan ran it down. After battling back from a 3-0 count, Cooper ended the frame by getting senior shortstop Kristen Chipman to ground back to the mound.
The Clippers broke through in their half against Fryeburg Academy starter, sophomore Nicole Bennett.
Andrea St. Pierre battled back from a 1-2 count to draw a walk leading off. Hutchinson bunted her to second and she took third when Cooper grounded out to short. Thompson, who showed great body control by waiting on an off-speed pitch, then blooped a hit over the shortstop and St. Pierre came home to make it 1-0.
“Cat did a great job, she put it in the right place and I got home,” Andrea St. Pierre said.
“I wanted to crush the ball,” Thompson said. “I was trying to crush it. She got two strikes on me. I knew we had a runner on third and I wanted to put the ball in play and be productive. That’s what I tried to do. I was hoping we’d get more.”
“We manufactured it,” Yarmouth coach Amy Ashley added. “We got a walk, a bunt, got her to third and then Cat came through.”
Junior Eleanor O’Gorman struck out to end the inning.
Bennett led off the second with a single to center. Junior pinch-runner Megan Fuller moved to second when sophomore catcher Makayla Cooper grounded out to first. After Mari Cooper fanned junior leftfielder Alexis L’Heureux-Carland, she wild pitched Fuller to third, but escaped the threat by getting senior rightfielder Amanda Gillette to ground back to the mound.
After Robichaud, the leftfielder, lined hard to center to start the bottom half, freshman designated player Cate Ralph singled to center. Sophomore second baseman Sydney St. Pierre struck out swinging, but Sullivan blooped a single to center. Andrea St. Pierre then hit a sharp grounder, but it was right at junior third baseman Faith Pelkie, who stepped on the bag to end the frame.
The Raiders threatened again in the third.
Freshman designated hitter Hailey Hudson led off by beating out an infield single, but Cooper got junior first baseman Kristina Hudson to fly to right and after Quinn sacrificed Hailey Hudson to second, Cooper fanned Buzzell.
The Clippers got a great chance to add to their lead in the bottom half, but couldn’t capitalize.
After Hutchinson grounded out to short with Kristina Hudson making a nice scoop at first, Cooper grounded to third, but reached and took second when Pelkie’s throw got past first and went down the rightfield line. Gillette then overran the ball and Cooper went all the way to third. Bennett bore down to fan Thompson, then got O’Gorman to ground back to the mound to keep it 1-0.
Fryeburg Academy threatened again in the fourth and again Cooper rose to the occasion.
Chipman grounded out to first leading off, but Cooper hit Bennett. Makayla Cooper hit a slow grounder in front of the plate and Mari Cooper threw her out by a step, but Fuller, again pinch-running, took second. That set the stage for L’Heureux-Carland, but Cooper caught her looking at strike three.
In the bottom half, Robichaud led off with a sharp single to center, but Ralph grounded into a short-to-second force out, Sydney St. Pierre popped out to second and Sullivan grounded into a short-to-second force
In the top of the fifth, junior Renee Fournier pinch-hit for Gillette and was overmatched, striking out. Hailey Hudson then blooped a ball to right, but freshman rightfielder Sophie McGrath made a nice running sno-cone catch for out number two. Kristina Hudson reached with a ground ball single past Andrea St. Pierre at short, then took second when Hutchinson threw away a pickoff throw, but Cooper got Quinn to bunt strike three foul to escape.
Andrea St. Pierre led off the bottom half with a shot to left, but it was right at L’Heureux-Carland. Hutchinson flew deep to center and Cooper looked at strike three.
Cooper was dominant in the sixth.
Buzzell hit a chopper back to the pitcher leading off for the first out. Chipman then grounded to Andrea St. Pierre at short, who made a nice play to get the runner by a step. Bennett then hit a grounder to O’Gorman, who stepped on the bag to get her team three outs from victory.
The Clippers weren’t able to add an insurance run in the bottom half, as Thompson grounded out to third, O’Gorman grounded out to short with Chipman making a nice throw across the diamond, and Robichaud hit a rocket to right, but right at Gillette.
Cooper finished it off in the seventh, but not without some anxious moments.
With the fog rolling in, making things even more dramatic, Makayla Cooper led off with a sharp single to center. L’Heureux-Carland didn’t bunt and hit the ball back to the mound. Mari Cooper didn’t panic or rush the throw and eventually threw to short for the first out. Gillette hit a grounder to Sydney St. Pierre, but Andrea St. Pierre couldn’t handle the throw as Makayla Cooper crashed into the bag and Fryeburg Academy had runners at first and second.
Considering the circumstances, the Clippers could have panicked, but it was never an option.
“That was our first error in several games and I knew it was no problem,” Mari Cooper said. “I had no doubt we wouldn’t make another error.”
“That was tough when we thought we had that out, but knowing we were the home team helped us out because we knew we still had the ability to come back if we needed to,” Hutchinson said. “We have complete composure defensively behind Mari and we used that today.”
“(After the error) when I went out to talk to the team, they gave me confidence,” Ashley added. “They were so calm. I went back in the dugout and my sister (assistant coach Janet Tinker) said, ‘How are they?’ and I said, ‘We’ve got this.’ They had so much confidence and composure.”
Cooper then had her finest stretch in a transcendent postseason, catching Hailey Hudson looking at strike three and after falling behind 2-0, fanning Kristina Hudson on a low pitch (Hutchinson caught the ball in the dirt and applied the tag just in case) with the clock reading 9:04 p.m., to set off a wild celebration decades in the making.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Cooper said. “Kallie got that pick and so many emotions ran through my head.”
“I knew I had it in my glove,” Hutchinson said, of the final strike. “I wasn’t sure if the batter would run or not. As a catcher, it’s always better to tag them and make sure. We said before the game, ‘Dare to Be Great,’ ‘Play For the Little Girl You Used to Be’ and play for the kids we work with in Little League. It’s a big thing not only for us, but for the program and the excitement about softball in Yarmouth. As a senior that’s leaving, I’m excited about leaving the legacy that we’re good and we’re going to be good. It feels good. It’s a good way to end my high school career.”
“This is the best day of my life,” Andrea St. Pierre said. “It’s great. I put (the error) behind me. I just put it out of mind and we didn’t let up a run. To be honest, I didn’t think 1-0 would hold up and either did our coaches, but they believe in us and we did it.”
“I knew we had the potential this year,” Ashley added. “It just took us some time to get there. We talked a lot about last year’s heartbreak. The girls have exceeded expectations. They’re doing it and it’s the best thing from a coach’s perspective.”
Cooper now has pitched 21 straight shutout innings in the playoffs, capped by Tuesday’s four-hit, no-walk gem in a tidy 90 minutes. She hit a batter and threw a wild pitch, but fanned seven and stranded five Fryeburg Academy runners.
“I wasn’t actually that nervous for the game, but you can’t get much more nervous than the seventh inning,” Cooper said. “The Cape game from last year keeps running through my head, but this year is totally different. I have so much more trust in my defense this year. I pitch with my heart and put all my trust in the players behind me. I didn’t throw very well in the last inning because I knew if I was in their position, I’d swing at anything. Luckily that worked to my advantage.”
“(Mari’s) great,” Andrea St. Pierre said. “She’s the best pitcher in the state right now and we’re so lucky to have her.”
“It took her a little bit to settle in, but she got her confidence and she was on,” Hutchinson said.
“We have the utmost confidence in Mari and I thought she got better as the game went on,” Ashley added. “Her speed wasn’t there at the beginning. There was a lot of nerves and pressure. By the third inning, she really stepped up. She’s the complete package, mentally and physically.”
Yarmouth managed just four hits, but hit several balls hard, right at Fryeburg Academy fielders.
“We weren’t striking out or popping up,” Thompson said. “We had hard-hit balls, productive outs.”
“I told the girls we needed three runs to win it, but our defense has stepped up all playoffs, so it’s fitting that one was enough,” Ashley said. “We hit the ball hard today. We call them loud outs. The girls made a lot of them. Hopefully they’re hits on Saturday.”
The Clippers got their run from Andrea St. Pierre. Thompson had the RBI. Yarmouth stranded five runners.
Bennett was the hard-luck loser for the Raiders and fell to 12-7 after giving up just one run on six hits and a walk in six innings. She struck out four.
Fryeburg Academy came a long way this season, but fell a run short of another trip to the state final.
“We had a few chances, but we didn’t take advantage,” Raiders coach Fred Apt lamented. “(Yarmouth’s) a great team. They’re playing really well. What a great job they’ve done. I have a lot of respect for them. I didn’t think it would be 1-0, but Cooper did a good job. I’m very proud of my kids. We battled. There’s no quit and that’s how it’s been all year. It’s hard to get here.”
Yarmouth will take part in a state game for the first time Saturday against a Hermon team which has been there before.
The Clippers believe that if they play their game, they can beat anyone and put the cherry on top of this magical sundae.
“We need to maintain our strong defense,” Thompson said. “That’s taken us so far. We need to put the ball in play.”
“We just have to put the ball in play and stay solid on defense,” Andrea St. Pierre said. “I know we can do it.”
“It’s all about the excitement and playing for each other,” Hutchinson said. “The confidence we have after this playoff run gets us one step closer. We have so much camaraderie and love for each other. I’ve never been on a team like this. We respect each other and our coaches and we wouldn’t want to play with anyone else. It’s a lot of fun.”
“I’m more excited than nervous,” said Cooper. “I can only imagine what this place will look like on Saturday. We’ve had great support from our fans and community. They’re really excited and that makes us even more excited.”
“I think we can do it,” Ashley added. “We’ve shown we can accept a challenge. The girls love to be challenged and they need to be challenged. Janet really challenges the pitchers. (Assistant coach) Richie (Ashley) brings a knowledge to the game and a level of intensity and I’m there as well. They get a lot of coaching and they love it. We believe in each other and we’re having fun. We just have to make sure we’re mentally ready. It’s only Tuesday and we have to get to Saturday. We’ll just have to keep our heads on our shoulders.”
Yarmouth junior Mari Cooper was masterful Tuesday, allowing just four hits and no walks in a shutout performance.
Yarmouth junior Eleanor O’Gorman looks to make contact.
Yarmouth third baseman Cat Thompson yells encouragement at pitcher Mari Cooper after Cooper makes a nice defensive play.
Yarmouth junior Colleen Sullivan watches a pitch near the plate.
Yarmouth freshman Cate Ralph runs the bases.
Yarmouth first baseman Eleanor O’Gorman stretches for a throw which is too late to get Fryeburg Academy freshman Hailey Hudson.
Yarmouth senior Kallie Hutchinson races down the line.
Yarmouth sophomore Sydney St. Pierre takes a swing.
Yarmouth senior Kallie Hutchinson hugs junior pitcher Mari Cooper in the postgame celebration.
Yarmouth junior Colleen Sullivan (left) and senior Michelle Robichaud scream for joy following the victory.
Yarmouth senior captains Michelle Robichaud, left, and Kallie Hutchinson, show off the Clippers’ first piece of softball hardware.
Yarmouth’s softball team erupts in joy following Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Fryeburg Academy in the Western Class B Final. The Clippers will face Hermon in their first ever state game Saturday afternoon.
Ben McCanna photos.
More photos below.
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Thompson singled to left, Andrea St. Pierre scored.
Y- A. St. Pierre
Left on base:
Bennett and Cooper; Cooper and Hutchinson
Bennett (L, 12-7) 6 IP 4 H 1 R 1 ER 1 BB 4 K
Cooper (W, 14-1) 7 IP 4 H 0 R 0 BB 7 K 1 WP 1 HBP