PORTLAND—Nothing figures to come easily for the McAuley softball team this spring, so the Lions will eagerly grasp whatever success that comes their way.
Friday afternoon, McAuley, despite a solid pitching effort from sophomore Sam Libby, found itself down 1-0 heading for the bottom of the sixth inning in a game where it hadn’t been able to produce much offense.
There, the Lions got a break, turning a dropped pop fly into the tying run, then, in the bottom of the eighth, McAuley senior standout Shelby Bryant got on base by virtue of a bunt, moved to second on a Libby single and after a wild pitch, scored when junior Molly Mack reached on an error, giving the Lions a 2-1 victory.
McAuley evened its record at 2-2 and dropped the Eagles to 1-3 on the season.
“I’m tickled pink at 2-2,” said Lions coach Robbie Ferrante. “I think Windham will win some games. The girls feel good about themselves.”
McAuley has enjoyed the best two years in program history, capped by last spring’s 13-win campaign, which didn’t end until the semifinals, the first time the Lions advanced that far in the postseason.
This season, after losing key players to graduation and transfer, McAuley sandwiched losses to host Kennebunk (15-0) and visiting Marshwood (10-0) around a 2-0 win at Cheverus.
Windham lost 2-1 at home to Sanford and 5-3 at Massabesic before bouncing back to down visiting Deering, 11-3.
Last year, the Lions won at the Eagles, 2-1.
They would win by the same score Friday, but it was a struggle throughout.
After retiring the first batter of the game, Libby walked Windham centerfielder Morgan Richmond, who promptly stole second base, then third. Libby managed to escape by fanning catcher Logan Genest and getting third baseman Colleen Holtan to pop out to Mackenzie Lenord at third base.
In the bottom of the first, Bryant lined a single off Holtan’s glove, but was stranded when Libby popped out to short, freshman Taylor Whaley hit into a force play and Mack struck out.
The Eagles threatened again in the second when leftfielder Madison Elliott crushed a triple to leftfield leading off, but Libby again walked the highwire and kept the visitors off the board. Second baseman Haley Plante grounded back to the mound and Libby threw home to Bryant, who tagged out Elliott. After Windham pitcher Sara Richards walked and a wild pitch moved the runners into scoring position, Libby struck out first baseman Miranda Richards and rightfielder Sasha Van Baars.
McAuley sophomore centerfielder Lauren Coulombe led off the bottom of the second with a single to right, but Lenord struck out and rightfielder Monica Hutcherson bounced into a double play.
Libby got the first two Eagles hitters in the third, but Genest and Holtan walked and both moved up on stolen bases before Libby caught Elliott looking at a third strike.
After the Lions went quietly in their half of the third, Plante beat out an infield single to start the top of the fourth. After Sara Richards sacrificed Plante to second, the runner moved up on a wild pitch. Libby appeared primed to escape another jam when she struck out Miranda Richards, but Van Baas, the No. 9 hitter, came through with a bloop single to rightfield and Windham had a 1-0 lead.
McAuley’s first two hitters grounded out in the bottom half, but Coulombe was hit by a pitch to keep the frame alive. She moved up to second on a wild pitch, but was stranded when Lenord struck out.
Libby walked Genest in the top of the fifth, but left her at first base. In the bottom half, Richards struck out the side. Libby walked Plante to start the sixth, but retired the next three hitters, capping the inning by getting Miranda Richards and Van Baas to look at strike three.
The Lions were on the ropes, but rallied in the bottom of the inning.
Bryant led off by skying a fly ball down the leftfield line. Tucker got to the ball, but couldn’t hold it and Bryant raced to second base. Libby followed with a ringing double to right-center and the game was tied.
McAuley had a chance to go ahead with Libby at second with no one out, but Whaley flew out to center and Mack popped to second base and Libby was doubled off the bag.
In the top of the seventh, Libby managed a feat rarely seen, a four strikeout inning. She got Tucker swinging and Richmond looking. Genest then struck out swinging to apparently end the inning, but strike three got away from Bryant and Genest reached. She stole second, but Holtan took a called third strike to end the threat.
Lenord had a one-out single to center in the bottom of the inning, but was stranded at first.
In the top of the eighth, Elliott led off with a walk and was sacrificed to second. Sara Richards walked and a wild pitch put both runners in scoring position, but Libby induced Miranda Richards to hit back to the box and threw Elliott out at the plate. Van Baas ended the inning with a ground out to short and McAuley set its sights on ending the contest.
Tucker replaced Richards on the mound in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Bryant came to plate. While she was capable of ending the contest with one swing, Bryant laid down a bunt and reached on a single.
“I just had to get on base,” said Bryant, McAuley’s two-time reigning Spring Athlete of the Year. “I have great people behind me. If I swung for the fences, I’d strike out. I was going to go. I had to score.”
Libby followed with a base hit to center, but Whaley fouled out to Genest.
After a wild pitch moved Bryant to third, the game came down to Mack.
Mack hit a ground ball at Holtan, who couldn’t handle it. By the time she picked up the loose ball, Mack had crossed the first base bag and Bryant touched home to give the Lions a 2-1 win.
“I was just trying to make contact,” Mack said. “The pitcher was a little quicker. I’m better at hitting faster pitches. I thought I was going to get out. It’s my first game-winning hit. It’s exciting. Whatever works.”
“We got lucky,” Ferrante said. “We’re not going to score many runs. It had to be very frustrating for (Windham). They left 10 runners on base.”
Libby improved to 2-1 on the year by only allowing one run on four hits in eight innings. She walked eight batters and had a pair of wild pitches, but her 13 strikeouts saved the day.
Libby suffered an ankle injury while sliding in Thursday’s loss to Marshwood, but gutted it out Friday.
“My ankle’s a little sore from yesterday,” Libby said. “I was in the strike zone. I felt good. We’re working on things and making improvements.”
“It wasn’t difficult to catch (Sam),” said Bryant. “We’re on the same page. We worked together. With a pitcher like Sam, I can’t really complain.”
“The two games we’ve won, Sam’s thrown well,” added Ferrante.
Bryant, who played centerfield last spring, has settled in as catcher.
“I’m a little sore, but I don’t mind it,” said Bryant, who will play soccer and softball at U. Maine-Farmington next year. “It definitely makes me better for college. I’m learning a lot. It helps me all around. I caught when I was younger. It looks like it will be all season. I learn more each game. A lot of people stepped up that we weren’t expecting. I’m still learning.”
“It’s by necessity, but right now, it’s best for the team,” Ferrante said. “Shelby will do what she can.”
Offensively, Bryant and Libby both had multiple hits. Bryant scored both runs. Libby had the lone RBI.
For Windham, Richards pitched a solid seven innings, only allowing one unearned run on four hits. She hit a batter and threw a wild pitch, but struck out nine.
Tucker took the loss, surrendering two hits in 0.2 innings. She had a strikeout and a wild pitch.
Offensively, Plante scored the run, Van Baars had the RBI. Elliott tripled. Genest had two stolen bases, Holtan, Richards, Richmond and Tucker one apiece.
McAuley is back in action Monday at Westbrook. Wednesday, Biddeford pays a visit. Next Friday, the Lions are at Portland.
The learning process continues.
“I’m still fumbling with my lineup with the new players,” said Ferrante. “They’re still getting used to situations.”
“I think we have to keep it day-to-day,” Bryant said. “We have to keep level heads. We can’t get down. We’ll keep improving. At the end of the season, we’ll be so much better than we are now.”
W- 000 100 00- 1 4 3
M- 000 001 01- 2 6 0
Van Baars singled to center, Plante scored.
Libby doubled to right-center, Bryant scored.
Bryant scored on infield error.
M- Bryant, Libby 2
M- Bryant 2
W- Van Baars
W- Genest 2, Holtan, Richards, Richmond, Tucker 1
Richards, Tucker (8) and Genest; Libby and Bryant
Richards 7 IP 4 H 1 R 0 ER 0 BB 9 K 1 HBP 1 WP
Tucker (L 0-1) 0.2 IP 2 H 1 R 0 ER 0 BB 1 K 1 WP
Libby (W, 2-1) 8 IP 4 H 1 R 1 ER 8 BB 13 K 2 WP