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Cheverus softball keeps on winning

Sports

Cheverus softball keeps on winning

PORTLAND—The Cheverus softball team has learned how to win and is having an awful lot of fun in the process.

Friday afternoon, the Stags, who won just five times in 2012, made it four in a row to start the 2013 season with a solid display of hitting and clutch pitching against visiting Kennebunk.

After falling behind, 1-0, in the top of the second, Cheverus answered with two runs in its half, taking the lead for good when junior pitcher Brittany Bell drew a two-out walk with the bases loaded.

The Stags weren't close to done and added a run in the third, another in the fourth, then tacked on two more in the fifth, behind a balanced offense which produced a dozen hits.

Bell, meanwhile, scattered eight hits and struck out 11 as Cheverus went on to a 6-1 victory, improving to 4-0, while dropping the Rams to 1-1.

"It's pretty awesome," said Bell. "We're really excited. The energy in the dugout is really good. We're always upbeat and positive and we're having the time of our lives."

Pleasant surprise

After going 5-11 and falling short of the playoffs in 2012, Cheverus entered the new season confident it would contend and the Stags have produced the finest first week in program history.

Cheverus began with a taut 5-4 win at Massabesic (its first win in 11 all-time season openers), holding on for dear life down the stretch behind senior Izzi Grasso, who worked out of bases loaded jams in both the sixth and seventh innings, then romped over visiting Deering (13-1, in six innings), before having to go eight innings Wednesday to defeat host McAuley, 3-1, on a clutch hit from senior Katie Roy.

Kennebunk won its first outing, 4-1, over visiting Marshwood.

A year ago, at Kennebunk, the Rams beat the Stags, 15-3, in six innings.

Friday, on a sun splashed afternoon, Cheverus turned the tables and kept its good times rolling.

Bell dug herself a hole in the top of the first as Rams junior designated player Meg Cadigan led off by slapping a ball to Stags freshman shortstop Sophia Giancotti, who had no chance to throw out the speedy runner. Junior second baseman Liz Cable then reached on an error, but Bell struck out freshman shortstop Brennan Cain and also fired strike three past senior pitcher Carinn Burns. After a passed ball moved the runners into scoring position, Bell got junior catcher Brittany Madore to ground softly to Grasso at second and Grasso threw her out to end the threat.

Burns was sharp in the Cheverus half of the first, inducing a pair of groundouts, then fanning Stags junior designated player Katie Randall looking.

The visitors broke through in the second as freshman third baseman Gabby Harrison ripped the first pitch of the inning for a triple over the head of Cheverus senior rightfielder Jamie Dulac and one out later, she came home on a passed ball. The Rams managed to load the bases on two bloop singles and an infield hit, but Bell kept the deficit at one when she got Cain to ground out to Grasso.

The Stags' bats then came to life in the bottom of the second.

Roy, the third baseman, led off with a single up the middle. Junior first baseman Libby DesRuisseaux followed with a perfect bunt, which she beat out for an infield single. After Giancotti struck out, the runners executed a double steal. Dulac then beat out an infield hit to score Roy. Dulac moved to second with a steal and sophomore catcher Casey Simpson walked to load the bases. Burns appeared on the verge of getting out of the jam when she caught senior centerfielder Kelsey Dulac looking at strike three, but on a 3-2 count, Bell drew a walk and DesRuisseaux scored the go-ahead run.

Bell quickly set Kennebunk down in order in the top of the third on a fly ball and two strikeouts, then the offense got back to work in the bottom half.

Randall led off with a base hit up the middle. After Roy struck out looking, DesRuisseaux grounded a base hit into the hole between third and short and after Giancotti went down swinging, Jamie Dulac came up big again, lining a single to center, which scored Randall to make it 3-1.

"I wasn't concerned (falling behind early)," Jamie Dulac said. "We're slow in the first inning, but we come around. We have a lot of good hitters this year. Every pitch I just watch the ball. That's what I have to do. I do like to be at the plate. I think I do better under pressure."

Bell set down the first two hitters in the top of the fourth before walking the highwire again. Junior leftfielder Krystal Livermore pounded a double to deep right and moved to third on a single by Cadigan. After Cadigan, representing the tying run, stole second, Bell and Cable engaged in a duel which featured foul ball after foul ball until Bell took a little bit off and got Cable swinging to end the inning.

"I had to just keep going and breathe," Bell said. "My goal is to stay happy. In my head, I said, 'You got it.' You have to believe in yourself and I did. It's fun, those battles. That's what I like about pitching."

The bottom of the fourth brought another run for the Stags, who got a single up the middle from Bell with one out before getting a break on a ground ball back to the mound when Burns threw wildly down the rightfield line and Bell raced all the way home to make it 4-1. Cheverus almost broke the game open when it loaded the bases and DesRuisseaux ripped a hit bound for leftfield, but the ball struck Randall, who by rule was out on the dead ball, which ended the inning without further damage.

Bell set Kennebunk down in order in the top of the fifth and the offensive onslaught continued in the bottom half.

With one out, Jamie Dulac reached on a dropped popup. She was sacrificed to second by Simpson, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored when a sharp ground ball off the bat of Kelsey Dulac took a bad hop and went into centerfield. Kelsey Dulac took second on an error, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored the Stags' sixth run on a bloop single by Grasso.

Bell worked around a two-out error in the top of the sixth and after Cheverus failed to score in the bottom half, worked out of one final jam in the seventh.

Cadigan got the trouble started by beating out another infield single. After a ground out, Cain was safe at first when DesRuisseaux dropped a throw. But with runners on second and third, Bell slammed the door, striking out Burns, then getting Madore to ground harmlessly back to the pitcher and in a tidy 90 minutes, the Stags had a very impressive 6-1 victory.

"It's a really nice start," said Cheverus coach Maureen Curran. "I really feel that we picked up where last season left off and we're carrying that momentum. Last year, we competed in every game. From Day 1, I've been impressed with these girls' ability and willingness to compete. Last year, we found ways to lose games. This year, we're finding ways to win games. It's nice to have five seniors. You can see their leadership.

"We've played some great preseason games with teams like Bangor and Cape Elizabeth and got into trouble and battled back. We did that at Massabesic when Izzi pitched out of trouble. Same thing at McAuley the other day when Katie Roy hit a triple in the eighth. It's building our confidence. It's nice that it's not coming from one or two players. It's coming from everyone. It's nice to see the younger players performing and building confidence."

Curran credited her assistant coaches, former Deering pitching standout Lesley Warn and her father, longtime Deering coach Tige Curran, for helping instill a winning attitude.

"We're a year older, a year more mature and they've bought into our philosophy," said Curran. "Neither (my Dad) nor I have ever stepped on a field expecting we were going to lose. I've never, as a coach or an athlete, done anything but expect to win. I think it took (the girls) a little while to buy into that, but it's starting to pay off. We're having a blast."

DesRuisseaux led the solid offensive performance with three hits. Jamie Dulac, Randall and Roy all had a pair. Jamie Dulac had two RBI, Kelsey Dulac, Bell and Grasso each added one. Bell, DesRuisseaux, Jamie Dulac, Kelsey Dulac, Randall and Roy scored. Cheverus also got stolen bases from DesRuisseaux, Jamie Dulac, Randall and Roy.

Bell improved to 3-0 with an eight-hitter. Her one run wasn't earned. She didn't walk a batter and struck out 11.

"I felt really good and strong," Bell said. "I thought about what I've learned in pitching lessons and just brought it to the field. I had faith in my team. We've hit well lately."

"Brittany was great," said Jamie Dulac. "She always scares us, but she comes around every time."

"You can see the offseason work that Brittany has put in," Curran added. "She threw 115 pitches and she looked even more sharp in the seventh than she did in the first. We had originally thought we'd throw Izzi for a couple innings, but Brittany looked stronger and stronger as the game went on. We thought we were better off leaving her in there to keep her rhythm."

For Kennebunk, Cadigan had four hits and two steals. Harrison had the run. Burns fell to 1-1 after giving up six runs (three earned) on 12 hits and three walks in six innings. She struck out eight and threw three wild pitches.

Consistency

While Cheverus has enjoyed its start, it knows there's a long season to play. The Stags return to action Monday at Marshwood. They're home again next Friday against Windham.

While Cheverus is thrilled with its accomplishments to date, there is still work to be done, a winning record and playoff berth to secure and after that, the sky's the limit.

"We're going to take it one game at a time," Bell said. "We're not thinking about the season as a whole, but just one game."

"We're confident and coach always keeps us going," said Jamie Dulac. "I think winning early in the season definitely has us motivated to keep going. We have to just play good defense and keep the bats going."

"We want to be 1-0 every day, that's all I care about," Curran said. "If we take it like that, we can have some success. We have a lot to work on. The girls hoped to have tomorrow off, but I crushed those hopes and dreams. The second half of the season, we see South Portland, Scarborough, Noble and Thornton Academy. We feel pretty good that we already beat Massabesic and Kennebunk, who were 'top 10 teams to watch.' That gives us something to build on. We showed up last year and gave Scarborough and South Portland good games. If we keep building on this confidence, I think we could upset a top team."

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

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Cheverus junior pitcher Brittany Bell delivers a strike. Bell improved to 3-0 after scattering eight hits and striking out 11.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Cheverus freshman shortstop Sophia Giancotti tracks down a pop fly.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Cheverus junior Libby DesRuisseaux lines one of her three base hits.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Cheverus senior Jamie Dulac slams a base hit to drive in the Stags' third run of the game.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Cheverus senior third baseman Katie Roy makes a throw across the diamond.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Cheverus senior Kelsey Dulac slides safely into third base during the fifth inning.