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Capers chill Clippers in softball opener

Sports

Capers chill Clippers in softball opener

CAPE ELIZABETH—Even when the wind and cold are conspiring against them, the mighty bats of the Cape Elizabeth softball team find a way.

Thursday afternoon at Capano Field, in the lidlifter of a season expected to bring much triumph to the Capers, the biggest blows weren't shots over the wall or into the outfield gaps, but instead seeing-eye hits which proved to be enough to defeat the visiting Yarmouth Clippers.

Cape Elizabeth senior pitcher Katie Rabasca helped her cause with a two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the first inning and the Capers tacked on four more runs before holding off a late Yarmouth rally to prevail, 6-3.

Rabasca and sophomore catcher Tess Haller both drove in a pair of runs and Rabasca only surrendered four hits as Cape Elizabeth got its season off on the right foot.

"There were a little a bit of nerves since it was our first real game, but we pulled it out," said Rabasca. "I felt really good at the start. For morale, to have those two early runs, you feel so much better."

Softball weather?

In its annual attempt to get a jump on the spring sports season, the Western Maine Conference scheduled a smattering of games to be played Thursday, even though the conditions were more suited to a soccer state final in November.

At first pitch, the mercury read 39 degrees and it felt like 32.

Regardless, both teams were ready to begin a season that each entered full of optimism.

Last spring, Cape Elizabeth lost just once in the regular season and entered the playoffs as the No. 2 seed, but the Capers were upset by sixth-ranked Gray-New Gloucester in the semifinals, 2-1, to finish 16-2.

Yarmouth was very competitive as well, going 8-8 before winning a preliminary round playoff game at Mountain Valley, 13-2. The Clippers were then eliminated in the quarterfinal round at eventual regional champion Greely, 9-3, to wind up 9-9.

The teams split a pair of nailbiters in 2013, with Cape Elizabeth winning at Yarmouth, 7-6, and the Clippers handing the Capers their lone regular season host, 3-2, in Cape Elizabeth.

Thursday's contest was scheduled to be played at Yarmouth High School, but the field there was buried under two inches of mud and the game was moved to Cape Elizabeth where the Capers quickly took control.

In the top of the first, Rabasca set the Clippers down in order, striking out sophomore centerfielder Colleen Sullivan, inducing a foul fly out off the bat of senior shortstop Monica Austin and getting junior catcher Kallie Hutchinson to bounce out to shortstop.

Then, in the bottom half, Cape Elizabeth donned its hitting shoes.

Senior first baseman Elise Flathers grounded out to start the frame, but junior shortstop and standout Ashley Tinsman got her first of many hits this spring, a single between short and third. Senior third baseman Emma O'Rourke followed by drawing a walk and Yarmouth sophomore pitcher Cat Thompson wild pitched the runners to second and third, but it appeared the Clippers would escape the jam when Haller hit a rope right at Sullivan in center.

"I know if it was warmer, the ball would go further," Haller said.

Rabasca made sure the uprising wasn't for naught, however, as she managed to steer a single into rightfield. Tinsman and O'Rourke came home and the Capers were ahead for good, 2-0.

In the top of the second, Yarmouth senior first baseman Melissa Levinson led off with a walk, but wasn't able to score, as Rabasca struck out sophomore rightfielder Breanna Morrill, got sophomore leftfielder Eleanor O'Gorman to bounce back to the mound and senior third baseman Abby Nielsen to ground harmlessly to third.

In the bottom half, Cape Elizabeth sophomore second baseman Meg Nicholson led off with a single, went to second on a groundout from freshman rightfielder Maggie Baker and to third when sophomore leftfielder Monika Scheindel bounced back to the mound, but she was stranded when Flathers ended the inning with a groundout to second.

Rabasca was dominant in the top of the third, getting Thompson to ground to short and striking out both senior second baseman Julia Anastos and Sullivan.

The hosts tacked on a run in the bottom half.

After Tinsman and O'Rourke both crushed balls that died in the wind and were snared by Clippers outfielders, Haller hit a ground ball that appeared to end the frame, but it went through the legs of Anastos. Rabasca walked and senior centerfielder Mary Perkins reached on an infield hit that just eluded Nielsen. Nicholson then drew a walk to plate Haller and  the lead was 3-0.

With two down in the top of the fourth, Yarmouth got its first hit, as Levinson singled up the middle. Morrill then reached on an infield hit, but O'Gorman's fly ball was snared by Baker in right to end the threat.

The Capers doubled their lead in the bottom of the inning.

After Morrill made a nice diving catch to rob Scheindel leading off, Flathers walked and moved to second, then third on a pair of Thompson wild pitches. Tinsman drew a walk and O'Rourke grounded a ball to Austin's left. Austin went for the ball and while perhaps looking to create a double play, fumbled it and all hands were safe, with Flathers crossing the plate for a 4-0 lead. After a wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, Haller came through with a base hit to left and Tinsman and O'Rourke scored for a 6-0 advantage.

The Clippers went quickly in the top of the fifth.

In the bottom half, with one out, Thompson walked Scheindel and that was the end of her day. She was replaced by freshman Andrea St. Pierre, who did very well in her initial varsity appearance. St. Pierre got Flathers to pop up to Anastos and Scheindel, who was running on the play, was doubled off.

Rabasca had no trouble with Yarmouth in its half of the sixth, setting down the top of the order 1-2-3.

In the bottom of the frame, Tinsman crushed a single to center leading off and was wild pitched to second, but O'Rourke's rocket to center was caught by Sullivan and both Haller and Rabasca grounded out.

Any hopes of a quick top of the seventh were dashed when Levinson produced the game's first extra base hit, a double down the leftfield line. Morrill walked, but after a wild pitch moved up the runners, O'Gorman lined out to center.

Then, Nielsen, who played for Greely's regional champion a year ago, showed how potent her bat could be.

Like several other girls Thursday, Nielsen got all of a pitch, but unlike the other balls, this one didn't die. It kept sailing, well over the leftfield wall for a three-run homer, allowing the Clippers to cut their deficit in half, 6-3.

"She'd been close," said Yarmouth coach Amy McMullin. "She hit a couple that hung up in the wind. That was a great hit."

That blast would prove to be Yarmouth's lone offensive highlight, however, as Rabasca got St. Pierre to line out to center, then struck out freshman pinch-hitter Sydney St. Pierre to end it.

Longtime Capers coach Joe Henrikson was happy, but not satisfied.

"A win's a win," he said. "We'll take it. They do a nice job over there. They didn't roll over, that's for sure. They kept battling.

"I know there was at least nine (runners) we left on. You can't leave opportunities inning after inning. It could come back to bite you. They got three runs in one stroke. If that was a one- or two-run ballgame, it wouldn't have been good."

With the exception of one pitch, Rabasca was pretty dominant. She wound up allowing three runs on four hits, walking just two while striking out four.

"It's so chilly, but once you get used to it, it's not so bad," said Rabasca, who, like last year, is expected to share time on the hill with classmate Anna Goldstein. "It's a typical day at Capano. We're used to it."

"I thought (Katie) did a really good job with all her pitches," Haller said. "(Yarmouth's) a really good team with really good hitters. She did a good job hitting her spots. Our infield and outfield helped out so much. They made some really good catches out there."

"She pitched well," Henrikson added. "She only used one pitch today because it's cold and the leather on the ball is smooth. She battled."

Rabasca and Tinsman each had multiple hits. O'Rourke and Tinsman both touched home twice, while Flathers and Haller also scored. In addition to Haller and Rabasca's two RBI apiece, Nicholson added one.

For Yarmouth, Levinson had a pair of hits, including a double, and scored. Morrill and Nielsen also scored and Nielsen had all three RBI on her home run.

Thompson fell to 0-1 after giving up six runs (four earned) on six hits, six walks and four wild pitches. She had one strikeout.

"She came into the season as a backup, but we had an injury to (sophomore) Mari Cooper, who was going to be our starting pitcher," McMullin said. "We had to pull her from third base on put her on the mound. She did a good job. We didn't really help her. We gave up too many easy outs. She hung in there and battled."

Andrea St. Pierre pitched 1.2 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit.

"Andrea came in and did well," McMullin said. "That's not an easy position as a freshman."

Yarmouth wasn't overly chagrined with the setback.

"It's a good start," said McMullin. "Losing 6-3 is OK. If we didn't have all those errors, it might have been different. They're a good hitting team. I'm happy to see we stayed in it the whole time. That's the nice thing about these girls. They never give up. I'm happy we started like that."

See you soon

Countable games return April 28 and Cape Elizabeth and Yarmouth will do battle again, this time in Yarmouth.

The Clippers will lick their wounds and know that brighter days are ahead.

"We have a lot of things to work on," McMullin said. "It's still really early. We've had one practice outside. We'll practice hard over the break. The ones who are here will work hard. We'll do some fun team bonding things."

The Capers still have a way to go to get to championship caliber, but the pieces clearly are in place.

"We should be really good this year on offense," said Haller. "I feel like we need to calm down a little bit sometimes. We got nervous toward the end. If we keep it in our heads that we're a good team, we should be really good."

"We're all really excited because we have 10 returning players," Rabasca said. "The players we picked up this year are really good too. It's going to be a really good year."

"I do like what I have to work with this year," Henrikson added.

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

Photo:

Yarmouth senior second baseman Julia Anastos shows off the ball after making a diving catch.

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Yarmouth sophomore Cat Thompson delivers a pitch.

Photo: Michael Strout

Cape Elizabeth senior Emma O'Rourke takes a swing.

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Yarmouth senior Melissa Levinson rips a seventh inning double.

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Cape Elizabeth sophomore catcher Tess Haller chases a pitch. Haller drove in two runs in the victory.

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Cape Elizabeth senior pitcher Katie Rabasca delivers a strike during Thursday's win. Rabasca allowed just three runs on four hits.

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Yarmouth senior Abby Nielsen celebrates and is congratulated by coach Amy McMullin after her seventh inning home run.