Lions' bats do the talking in the final "Holy War"

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McAuley’s Maddie Beaulieu laces one of her four hits during the Lions’ 15-2, six inning win at Cheverus Friday afternoon.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

McAuley 15 Cheverus 2 (6 innings)

M- 500 028- 15 16 1
C- 001 010- 2 2 2

Littlefield and Fisher; Levesque and Tillotson

Multiple hits:
M- Beaulieu 4, Begos, Joyce 3, Kennedy

Doubles:
M- Beaulieu, Begos, Joyce, Littlefield. Rairdon

Home runs:
M- Beauleu, Donovan

Left on base:
M- 5
C- 4

M:
Littlefield (W, 1-0) 6 IP 2 H 2 R 1 ER 2 BB 4 K 3 WP 1 HBP

C:
Levesque (L, 0-1) 6 IP 16 H 15 R 11 ER 3 BB 3 K

Time: 1:28 

PORTLAND—As if McAuley’s softball team needed any extra motivation for its season opener Friday afternoon at Shea Field, the fact that its contest against Cheverus would be the final “Holy War” as we know it, gave the Lions extra incentive to prevail.

McAuley, which is giving up its religious affiliation after this school year, couldn’t have dreamed up a better start to the new season, as six batters in, it held a 5-0 lead.

After senior third baseman Chelsea Rairdon hit a two-run double and first baseman Jill Joyce singled in another run, rightfielder Lily Donovan crushed a pitch over the fence for a five-run advantage.

Ashley Littlefield, in her first varsity start, did the rest, allowing two runs (just one earned) and when the Lions blew the game open with eight runs in the sixth, capped by a home run from shortstop Maddie Beaulieu, McAuley was able to end the game via the mercy rule and prevailed, 15-2, in six innings.

The Lions won their season opener for the first time in five years and suggested that they might just be better than expected this spring.

“We have nothing to lose,” said McAuley second-year coach Dawn Armandi. “Nobody expects us to do anything. I just want us to go out and play hard and show what we’re capable of. I’m pleasantly surprised how many hits we got. The girls came out and did it.”

Unheralded

Cheverus missed the playoffs a year ago with a 1-15 mark, while McAuley qualified, but lost in the Western A preliminary round to Noble (2-1, in nine innings), to wind up 7-10.

Neither team is facing an abundance of expectations this spring, but both are hopeful.

While the schools’ softball rivalry is nowhere near as impassioned as basketball, Cheverus and McAuley have played some memorable games on the diamond over the years. Heading into Friday’s contest, the Lions held an 8-6 all-time lead (see sidebar, below), which included a sweep a year ago (10-2 at home and 9-0 at Cheverus).

Friday, under cloudy but comfortable 57 degree skies, McAuley made an immediate statement.

Beaulieu and catcher Kim Fisher started the game with singles and Rairdon followed with a double to score them both. Joyce’s single brought home Rairdon to quickly give the Lions a 3-0 lead.

Cheverus sophomore pitcher Sydney Levesque got the first out when Littlefield lined out to short, but Donovan hit a home run over the centerfield fence to make it 5-0 McAuley.

“It was a great start,” Beaulieu said. “We were focused on seeing the ball and driving it.”

Levesque got leftfielder Gabby Begos to fly to left and after second baseman Elizabeth Kennedy singled, Levesque avoided further damage by catching centerfielder Holly Ackey looking at strike three.

Littlefield started the bottom of the first by getting both senior centerfielder Jill Hannigan and senior shortstop Sophia Giancotti to ground out, but she walked sophomore third baseman Isabel Santoro, bringing dangerous junior catcher Ally Tillotson to the plate. Tillotson, who starred for McAuley as a freshman and sophomore, couldn’t cause damage to her old team, however, as she struck out swinging.

“Having a lead was sweet,” Littlefield said. “It was awesome for confidence. I wasn’t really nervous. I was just really excited because it was Cheverus, the ‘Holy War.’ My screwball, fastball and change-up worked today.”

Levesque held the Lions at bay in the second, with some help from her defense.

After Beaulieu struck out leading off, Fisher walked. Rairdon fouled out to Tillotson, but Joyce singled to left. Littlefield then reached on a Santoro error, but when Fisher tried to score, Santoro threw home to Tillotson, who applied the tag to end the inning.

In the bottom half, Littlefield struck out both sophomore second baseman Meredith Cilley and junior first baseman Brooke Dawson before getting Levesque to ground out to short.

In the top of the third, Donovan got under a pitch and skied to left. After Begos reached on a single, Levesque caught Kennedy looking at strike three and Ackey grounded out to short.

The Stags broke through in the bottom half.

Junior leftfielder Izzy Probert led off and was hit by a pitch. She took second when junior rightfielder Emily Haley singled to left-center. Hannigan hit into a force play and Giancotti struck out, but on strike three, the ball got past Fisher, allowing Probert to score. Kennedy then made a pretty defensive play to end the inning, retiring Santoro and keeping the score 5-1.

McAuley threatened to answer in the top of the fourth, as Beaulieu led off with a double to deep right-center, but after Fisher grounded back to the mound with Beaulieu taking third, Rairdon ripped a shot to left that Probert managed to snag before throwing to third to double off Beaulieu, who was almost at home plate, to end the frame.

“I thought Izzy would lose her glove on that line drive,” said Cheverus coach Cynthia Wescott. “That was a laser.”

Cheverus couldn’t draw closer in its half, despite a leadoff single to center from Tillotson. Cilley grounded out to Joyce unassisted, Dawson hit a slow grounder which Joyce grabbed before throwing to Kennedy covering first for the second out. Levesque then hit a ball that bounced off Joyce and deflected to Kennedy, who threw to Joyce for the final out.

The Lions returned to their scoring ways in the fifth.

Joyce flew out to center, but Littlefield walked and was replaced by courtesy runner Amelia Searfoss, who was erased when Donovan hit into a force out. Begos kept the inning alive by doubling to right-center and Kennedy came through with a bloop single to score both runners, making it 7-1. Ackey popped out to end the inning.

In the bottom half of the fifth, Probert reached and moved to second on an error by Rairdon. She took third when Haley grounded out and came home when Hannigan grounded out slowly to second. Littlefield avoided further damage by getting Giancotti out on a bunt back to the mound.

McAuley then ended all doubt in the sixth.

Beaulieu started the uprising with a singe to left and took second when Probert couldn’t cleanly come up with the ball. Fisher laid down a bunt, which Tillotson threw wide of first and Beaulieu scored with Fisher taking second. Rairdon walked and Joyce ripped a double down the leftfield line, scoring a run and setting the stage for Littlefield to rip a double over Probert’s head, bringing home Rairdon and Joyce. Donovan grounded out, but Searfoss, running for the pitcher, took third on a wild pitch. Begos’ RBI single to right pushed the lead to 12-2 and Kennedy followed with a single. Levesque got Ackey to ground back to the mound to get on the verge of ending the inning, but Beaulieu came up for the second time in the frame and crushed a pitch over the centerfield wall for a three-run home run and a 15-2 lead.

“I wasn’t trying to hit a home run,” Beaulieu said. “Whenever I try, I strike out. I was just focusing on trying to help my team.”

Fisher flew out to end the inning, but the damage was done.

In high school softball, if a team holds a 12-run lead after the fifth or sixth inning, the game ends via the mercy rule, meaning Cheverus needed to score twice in the bottom of the sixth to keep the game alive.

Santoro led off by lining to Rairdon, but Tillotson walked. After Cilley popped out, Littlefield threw consecutive wild pitches moving Tillotson to third, but Dawson grounded out back to Littlefield to end it and in a tidy 88 minutes, McAuley prevailed, 15-2.

“We’re better than people think,” Littlefield said. “We have a strong group of girls. We have a good team bond.”

“We’re just happy to see the girls swinging the bats,” Armandi said. “Our goal today was to try to get our bats going and get ready to face some fast pitching. We had to get confidence first. Today was great. We haven’t had a pitching machine, so we haven’t seen live pitching. I was anxious to see how we’d do. It was really good to see the hard work we’ve had paid off.”

Littlefield earned her first victory by allowing two runs (one earned) on just two hits in six innings. She walked two, struck out four, hit a batter and threw three wild pitches.

“Ashley worked really hard in the offseason,” Armandi said. “During pitchers and catchers (in preseason), I noticed right away she was throwing harder. She knew she had to come in and be our ace. Her hard work is starting to show.”

The offense was relentless and was paced by four hits from Beaulieu (including a double and a home run). Begos and Joyce both had three hits, while Kennedy finished with a pair.

Beaulieu scored three times, while Begos, Donovan, Fisher, Joyce and Rairon all touched home twice. Searfoss and Kennedy had one run apiece.

Beaulieu also had three runs batted in, while Donovan, Joyce, Kennedy, Littlefield and Rairdon had two each. Begos drove in one.

McAuley left five runners on base.

For Cheverus, Levesque took the loss after surrendering 15 runs (11 earned) on 16 hits in six innings. She had three walks and three strikeouts.

Probert scored both runs. Hannigan had an RBI. The Stags left four runners on base.

“Being down 5-0 out of the gate was tough,” Wescott said. “That home run took the wind out of our sails. We made an effort with our bats, but it just didn’t go our way today. We got a girl on and she’d advance a base, but there wasn’t enough to push the runs across. Credit to their pitcher. She threw well. They made solid defensive plays as well.”

Gearing up

Cheverus will look to bounce back Monday, when it visits Portland. The Stags also host Gorham and play at defending regional champion Scarborough next week.

“We have a team bonding trip tomorrow to watch our former catcher, Margaret Rigney, down at Merrimack, then we have to come back focused on Monday,” Wescott said. “We just want to compete. It’s hard to ride one arm all season. It’s a balance between working our tails off at practice and getting the rest we need. We’re struggling to keep kids on the field.”

McAuley looks for a 2-0 start Monday when Westbrook pays a visit. After going to highly touted Biddeford Wednesday, the Lions are home with Portland Friday.

“I like what I see so far,” Beaulieu said. “Being the underdog makes us work harder and gives us motivation. We’ll have to be confident and keep doing what we’re doing and keep working hard every day.”

“We have a lot to work on,” Armandi said. “We didn’t get much action in the outfield today, so we have to work on that. We hit well today, but we’re still a long way away from where we need to be. It’s only going to get more challenging.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

McAuley pitcher Ashley Littlefield shows her form. Littlefield won in her debut.

McAuley second baseman Elizabeth Kennedy forces out Cheverus’ Emily Haley.

Cheverus’ Jill Hannigan makes contact.

McAuley catcher Kim Fisher swings at a high pitch.

Cheverus’ Brooke Dawson catches a pop-up.

Cheverus pitcher Sydney Levesque delivers a strike.

Previous Cheverus-McAuley results

2015
@ McAuley 10 Cheverus 2
McAuley 9 @ Cheverus 0 

2014
@ Cheverus 7 McAuley 2
Cheverus 6 @ McAuley 3

2013
Cheverus 3 @ McAuley 1 (8)

2012
McAuley 2 @ Cheverus 0

2011
McAuley 9 @ Cheverus 1

2010
@ McAuley 13 Cheverus 12

2009
@ Cheverus 6 McAuley 3

2008
Cheverus 13 @ McAuley 0 (5)

2007
@ Cheverus 15 McAuley 6

2006
McAuley 3 @ Cheverus 1

2005
McAuley 10 Cheverus 9 (8)

2004
McAuley 9 @ Cheverus 3

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.