The 2011 McAuley softball team went somewhere that no previous Lions team had ever gone: the regional semifinals.
Friday afternoon, 24 hours after a game was interrupted and eventually postponed by severe thunder and lightning, the Lions, ranked fourth in Western Class A, held off No. 5 Kennebunk, 7-6, in the quarterfinals.
Saturday, however, the run ended with a 14-2 (five inning) loss at defending state champion South Portland.
McAuley posted a program best 12-4 regular season mark, losing only to defending Class A champion South Portland and perennial powerhouses Scarborough, Thornton Academy and Biddeford.
The Lions’ quarterfinal round win was scintillating and will be remembered long after the semifinal loss.
After play was interrupted Thursday with the teams tied at 1-1 in the fourth, McAuley fell behind 3-0 in the top of the second of take two Friday, but erupted for six runs in its half of the inning.
An infield hit by senior Kayla Daigle scored classmate Maura Esten. An error brought in a second run. Sophomore pitcher Gabby Townsend then helped herself with a two-run single to put the Lions on top. After an error, senior Sara Mercier singled in two more runs.
“I think once we got a good hit, then we all followed through,” Townsend said.
“We haven’t been scoring many runs,” McAuley coach Robby Ferrante added. “I said, ‘Let’s play for one.’ I shuffled the lineup a little bit. That inning gave us momentum. We told them to cut down on their swings and choke up. We put it in play and had more baserunners. We only had one strikeout. When we got to six (runs), I thought we needed more.”
Sure enough, Kennebunk rallied for a run in the fourth, but the Lions went up 7-4 in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI single from Daigle.
In the meantime, first Townsend (who threw the first two and last two innings), then senior Jen Field (who hurled innings three through five) kept working out of jams. The Rams had the bases loaded and no one out in the fifth, but couldn’t score. Then, in the sixth, Townsend stranded runners at second and third.
Just three outs from history, Townsend got in trouble in the seventh, giving up a walk, a single, then a triple to Kelsey Livermore to make it a 7-6 game, putting the tying run at third with no one out. After the runner held on a ground out to Mercier at second, Livermore broke for home when the next hitter also bounced to Mercier. Mercier’s throw home to sophomore catcher Sam Schildroth was just in time and Schildroth applied the tag for out number two.
“I was very, very scared, but we’d been (getting out of trouble) all day,” Mercier said. “We’ve been doing it all season. We’ve walked a very thin line. I thought we could get out of it and if they scored a run, I thought we’d go and get it with our bats in the next inning. I looked up and saw (the runner) was going. Sam was ready. I threw the ball. I was hoping she’d get it and tag her out. I was nervous she’d drop it, but she got it. It was perfect. She made a great play.”
“The ball was hit to our senior captain twice,” Ferrante added. “We had the infield in. The catcher blocked the plate and made a nice tag. That was it.”
The next hitter bounced out to Daigle at short and McAuley had a 7-6 victory.
“It’s definitely a thrill,” said Field, who earned the win (Townsend got the save). “My freshman year, we only won a couple games. Senior year, it feels good to have all this success. We’re playing well as a team. We’ve had our ups and downs, but we fight through it. We’re one of those teams that battles. We like the close games. We like to come through in the end. We like to show we can dig deep and go for it. It feels good. I’m really proud of the program.”
Saturday didn’t go nearly as well. The Lions only lost to the Red Riots by a 1-0 margin in the regular season finale and scared them in last year’s quarterfinals (falling 6-4), but this time was all South Portland.
The Red Riots opened it up immediately with four runs in the first inning. They added a pair in the second and pushed across four more in the third. McAuley got on the board with two in the fourth (Schildroth tripled home Mercier, then scored on a wild pitch), but South Portland scored four times in the fifth to bring about the mercy rule and end the game at 14-2.
Field took the loss and junior standout Shelby Bryant also tripled.
“We got outplayed in the field,” said Ferrante. “We lost 1-0 to them 10 days ago, but they had too much for us today.”
The Lions have had successive stellar seasons and hope to build on this year’s excellence in 2012.
“We had a good season,” said Ferrante. “The kids worked really hard. We had a different hero each game.”
Freelance writer Henry Loughlin contributed to this story.
McAuley senior third baseman Maura Esten collides with South Portland’s Kelsey Morton during Saturday’s game. Esten recorded the out, but the Lions’ season ended with a 14-2 (five inning) loss to the defending Class A champion Red Riots in the Western A semifinals.