PORTLAND—After skillfully navigating a high-wire act for weeks, winning games in increasingly dramatic fashion, the McAuley softball team finally fell short Friday afternoon in the fog and drizzle.
The Lions proved they can play with one of Western Class A’s top contenders, Thornton Academy, but in the end, they left too many runners on base and lost for the first time in 12 games, 3-1.
The Golden Trojans took the lead for good on junior pitcher Julia Geaumont’s ringing two-run double in the top of the fifth and Geaumont did the rest, working out of trouble in nearly every inning to finish McAuley off.
“We had our chances, we just didn’t execute to our potential,” said Lions junior centerfielder Shelby Bryant, who reached base in every plate appearance, but failed to score. “(Thornton Academy’s) a very good team. We proved we can play with the top teams. We are one of the top teams. This was just an awakening.”
McAuley stole headlines in 2010, winning 11 games and has picked up where last year’s team left off.
The Lions won 11 straight to start the season, but seven of those victories were by a single run or in extra innings.
Thornton Academy started 7-2, losing only to defending Class A champion South Portland, 7-2, and perennial powerhouse Scarborough, 5-2.
A year ago, the Golden Trojans were an 11-10 home winner over McAuley. This time around, the pitchers kept run scoring to a minimum, but the result again favored Thornton Academy.
Lions sophomore hurler Gabby Townsend set the Golden Trojans down in order in the top of the first, despite a couple of deep fly balls hit to leftfielder Sam Libby.
In the bottom half, Bryant led off with a walk and took second on passed ball. After Townsend and sophomore catcher Sam Schildroth both struck out, Bryant moved to third on another passed ball, but after second baseman Sara Mercier walked, sophomore first baseman Molly Mack took a called third strike to end the threat.
The visitors got on the scoreboard in the top of the second.
After senior leftfielder Kristen Duross led off with a single to center and was sacrificed to second, Townsend fanned senior first baseman Hannah Ebling looking, but with two down, junior designated player Megan Agger ripped a triple to right-center for a 1-0 lead.
McAuley went down in order in the bottom of the second and Townsend set the side down in order in the top of the third.
Leading off the bottom of the third, Lions’ senior third baseman Maura Esten ripped a solid single to right-center on the first pitch she saw. Bryant followed with a base hit to left. Esten then stole third, with Bryant following suit at second and Townsend walked to load the bases. After Schildroth struck out looking, Mercier walked and Esten scored to tie the game. McAuley hoped to take the lead, but Mack lined out to second base and junior Chrissy Remmes turned it into a double play to keep the score, 1-1.
In the top of the fourth, the Golden Trojans got two out walks by Remmes and Ebling, but Megan Agger grounded to second. In the bottom half, rightfielder Jen Field beat out an infield single with two down, but Esten fanned looking to end the inning.
Thornton Academy then went on top to stay in the top of the fifth.
With one down, junior Katie Kalagias walked, but she was caught stealing, Schildroth to senior shortstop Kayla Daigle. Senior centerfielder Michelle Cote then walked and stole second. Senior shortstop Lauren Titus followed with a base on balls and Geaumont followed by blistering the first pitch she saw into the left-center to score both runners for a 3-1 advantage.
“(Geaumont) came up in a key situation and I was going to walk her, but first base wasn’t open and boom!” said McAuley coach Robby Ferrante.
The Lions looked to answer in their half of the fifth when Bryant and Townsend both walked, but Schildroth and Mercier each struck out looking and Mack grounded out to second.
In the sixth, the Golden Trojans loaded the bases with one out, as Ebling walked, Megan Agger singled to center and freshman pinch-hitter Erin Brayden reached on a bloop hit to left, but Townsend fanned freshman pinch-hitter Morgan Dube and induced senior pinch-hitter Vanessa McCrum to bounce softly to Mack at first.
McAuley got a one-out single from Libby in the bottom half, but Field struck out and Esten grounded out to third.
After Townsend escaped an error and a two-out single by Remmes in the top of the seventh (getting Ebling to strike out looking to end the threat), the Lions looked for a last-gasp rally.
Sure enough, Bryant beat out a bunt hit and Townsend walked to put the tying runs on base, but as was the case all day, the hosts couldn’t convert, as Schildroth struck out, Mercier popped out to Geaumont and Mack grounded out to Ebling unassisted to bring the undefeated run to an end.
“A hit here or a hit there and we’re 12-0,” said Ferrante. “I thought we had a few key kids up to bat and they couldn’t do it this time. We got two on in the seventh and I thought maybe we’d do it again. We don’t give up. We left 10 runners on base in a seven inning game. (Geaumont) beared down, she’s tough. The kids still feel good because they know they can play. I’m proud of them as far as that goes.”
Thornton Academy managed just six hits off Townsend (Megan Agger was the only Golden Trojan with multiple hits, including a triple, and Geaumont had the game’s only other extra base hit, a double). Cote, Duross and Titus touched home plate. Geaumont drove in a pair of runs, while Megan Agger had the other RBI. Cote and Remmes stole bases.
On the hill, Geaumont improved to 8-2 by allowing five hits and seven walks, while fanning 11 in her seven innings.
“I had to block out that she and I are very good friends and that we train together,” said Bryant. “She was throwing her very hardest and it’s hard to hit when we haven’t faced people like her. For what we’ve faced, we’ve proved we could hit her. A couple more at-bats and I think we would have had it.”
McAuley got multiple hits from Bryant. Esten had the lone run, while Mercier had the only RBI. Bryant and Esten had steals.
“It gives me confidence,” Bryant said. “I played a lot better than I have in awhile. My goal was to get on base every time and I did. “
Townsend fell to 7-1 after surrendering three earned runs on six hits and six walks. She struck out six.
Thornton Academy, now 8-2 and fourth in the Western Class A Heal Points standings, hosts Sanford Monday and goes to Kennebunk Wednesday. The Golden Trojans look to stay among the top four to guarantee a first-round playoff game.
The Lions (second to South Portland) meanwhile, have a brutal closing stretch. Monday night, they go to Scarborough. Wednesday brings a visit from Biddeford. A trip to Portland and a home tilt with South Portland ends the regular season.
McAuley is on the verge of a program-record in regular season victories (last year and this year’s squads share the mark of 11) and seems quite capable of a postseason run.
“We really have to bring it to the next few teams if we want it,” said Bryant. “We’ve put in the training and time and effort that we can do it. We have to score first and we’ll have it.”
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Ferrante added. “We’ll see where we stand. We still feel good about ourselves.”
TA- 010 020 0- 3 6 0
M- 001 000 0- 1 5 1
M. Agger tripled to right-center, Duross scored.
Mercier walked, Esten scored.
Geaumont doubled to left-center, Cote and Titus scored.
Triples- TA, M. Agger
Doubles- TA, Geaumont
RBI- TA, Geaumont 2, M. Agger 1; M, Mercier
Repeat hitters- TA, M. Agger 2; M, Bryant 2
Runs- TA, Cote, Duross, Titus; M, Esten
Stolen bases- TA, Cote, Remmes; M, Bryant, Esten
Geaumont and Zafirson; Townsend and Schildroth
Townsend (L, 7-1) 7 IP 6 H 3 R 3 ER 6 BB 6 K
Geaumont (W, 8-2) 7 IP 5 H 1 R 1 ER 7 BB 11 K