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Cape softball still perfect after holding off Yarmouth

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Cape softball still perfect after holding off Yarmouth

YARMOUTH—Cape Elizabeth's softball team has figured out how to win close games, while the Yarmouth Clippers are still learning.

Other than that, there wasn't much separating the two contenders in an exciting, back-and-forth battle Thursday afternoon at Yarmouth High School.

The Capers, one of the most prolific offensive teams in the state regardless of class so far this spring, were held in check for three innings by Clippers' senior lefty Mckenzie Gray and trailed 2-0 heading for the top of the fourth, but they were finally able to get their bats going and build a lead.

Cape Elizabeth went on top for good in the top of the fifth when a deep drive off the bat of standout sophomore shortstop Ashley Tinsman bounced off the glove of a Yarmouth outfielder and over the fence for a home run. By the seventh inning, the Capers had stretched their advantage to 7-3, but Yarmouth wasn't finished.

After two runs scored on an error and slugging sophomore catcher Kallie Hutchinson doubled in another, the Clippers only trailed by one and had the tying run in scoring position, but Cape Elizabeth junior pitcher Katie Rabasca saved her best for last, striking out Yarmouth freshman third baseman Catherine Thompson to end it.

Tinsman had the home run, scored twice and drove in a pair of runs, junior Mary Perkins added three hits and scored twice and Rabasca allowed just two earned runs in seven innings as the Capers improved to 8-0 and dropped the hard-luck Clippers to 4-5.

"A win's a win," said Cape Elizabeth coach Joe Henrikson. "I honestly think the sign of a good team is when you're able to win when you play poorly."

Surging

Cape Elizabeth is coming off a 14-win season, which ended with a 6-0 loss to Greely in the Western B quarterfinals.

This spring, the Capers expected to be among the top contenders and have sure lived up to billing, behind their two-headed pitching monster of Rabasca and Anna Goldstein and a potent lineup which has no apparent holes.

Cape Elizabeth set the tone with a 14-0 (five inning) home win over Old Orchard Beach in the opener and hadn't score fewer than eight runs in any game coming in. The Capers also defeated host Freeport (9-0), visiting Falmouth (11-1), host Gray-New Gloucester (14-2), York (8-7) and Traip (13-0) and visiting Wells (9-0).

As for Yarmouth, it has a new look this spring after missing the playoffs in 2012 at 5-11. Longtime coach Jim Senecal stepped down and was replaced by Amy McMullin, who is joined by her sister, Janet Tinker, and boyfriend, Richie Ashley, the Cheverus girls' basketball coach, on a coaching staff which has brought a jolt to the program.

The Clippers opened with a 5-1 home victory over Freeport and after falling, 12-5, to visiting Wells, crushed host Lake Region (14-4) and visiting Old Orchard Beach (19-4, in five innings). Losses at Gray-New Gloucester (5-4) and Poland (5-1) followed before Yarmouth got back in the win column, 11-1, at Old Orchard Beach. Monday, the Clippers battled Fryeburg hard, but lost, 5-3, thanks in part to a controversial call as a baserunner was ruled to have missed the base on a home run, preventing Yarmouth from tying the score.

The Capers beat the Clippers twice in 2012, 8-1 in Cape Elizabeth and 9-2 in Yarmouth. The Clippers last beat the Capers, May 18, 2011, by a 3-1 margin in Yarmouth.

With Friday's showdown at defending regional champion Fryeburg looming, Cape Elizabeth could have been caught looking ahead, but these Capers showed their mental toughness, as they overcame four errors in the field, others on the basepaths doing what it took to stay undefeated.

Barely.

Gray was tough to start the game, fanning Cape Elizabeth freshman second baseman Tess Haller and Tinsman before getting Perkins to line out to left.

Yarmouth's offense went right to work in the bottom of the first, as Gray led off by drawing a walk on four pitches, moved to second on a wild pitch, then came home when Thompson lined a double to left-center for a 1-0 lead.

Gray got out of the top of the second, thanks to junior shortstop Monica Austin, who made a pair of nice defensive plays.

In the bottom half, freshman rightfielder Libby King appeared to have a bloop single leading off, but Perkins made a nice diving catch for the out. After junior first baseman Melissa Levinson popped out to Tinsman, junior second baseman Julia Anastos doubled to left and came around with the second run when sophomore leftfielder Michelle Robichaud hit a sharp ground ball which glanced off Haller and rolled into right for a single. Robichaud was gunned down at second, but the lead was doubled.

Gray continued to bewitch the Capers in the third, inducing three ground outs.

Rabasca had her best inning in the bottom of the frame, getting a ground out and two fly balls to Perkins.

Then, in the top of the fourth, Cape Elizabeth came to life.

Tinsman got the rally started by walking on a 3-2 pitch. Perkins followed by chopping a ball that Austin couldn't field for an infield single. Junior leftfielder Emma O'Rourke lined out to center, but junior catcher Elise Flathers walked to load the bases. Rabasca then helped herself with a slow grounder to Austin, which didn't result in a play. The infield single scored Tinsman to cut the deficit to 2-1, reloading the bases. Sophomore designated player Hannah Saturley then lined a shot at freshman centerfielder Mari Cooper, who snow-coned the catch for the second out. Perkins came home with the tying run, but Cooper threw home, where Hutchinson saw Flathers trying to take third. Hutchinson's throw to Thompson was in time to retire the side, but the Capers had made it a 2-2 contest.

Yarmouth quickly retook the lead in its half as Levinson singled to center with one down and moved to second on an error. She was sacrificed to third by King and came home when Cooper blooped a hit in front of junior rightfielder Mollie Thibodeau, giving the Clippers a 3-2 advantage.

In the top of the fifth, senior first baseman Shannon Nicholson led off by grinding out an at-bat and singling to right on a 3-2 pitch. She was erased at second when senior third baseman Ellen Best hit a ground ball which deflected off Gray's glove to Austin, who touched second base for the force out. Haller then hit a deep fly to right-center, where King made a nice running catch, seemingly putting Gray on the verge of escaping the inning.

Tinsman followed and launched a fly ball to deep center, but it didn't appear the slugger made enough contact to get it over the fence. Cooper got to the ball and while leaning against the fence, got her glove on it, but she couldn't squeeze the ball and it didn't just fall safely to the ground, it went over the fence for a two-run homer which turned the game around and gave the Capers a 4-3 advantage.

"After I hit it, I felt like it was enough, but when I saw she was close to the ball, I was scared," Tinsman said. "When it went over, I was glad. It was a crucial run that we needed. I knew the bats would come around at some point. We couldn't lay off the low pitches and we were pulling our heads. Our lineup can hit."

"She was under the ball, so I wasn't sure if it would go over or not," Henrikson said. "We got a break there."

"I thought (Mari would) make the catch," said McMullin. "She's a pitcher and she's a freshman, but she plays like she's a senior. She's made outstanding catches. She'll never forget it, but we're behind her 100 percent of the way. I think she saw the fence and the ball just went off her glove. She won't let that happen again."

Perkins followed with a hit and moved to second on an error, but Gray got Flathers to ground back to the mound to avoid further damage.

Rabasca protected the lead in the bottom of the inning, setting the Clippers down in order, with the third out coming on a deep fly ball to O'Rourke off the bat of Austin.

Cape Elizabeth kept the pressure on in the sixth, making it 5-3 as Rabasca led off with a walk, Thibodeau followed with a single to right and after both runners moved up on an error, Best hit a one-out sacrifice fly.

With one out in the bottom half, Thompson was hit on the leg by a pitch and she took second on a throwing error, but King couldn't deliver the run as she popped out to short.

The Capers then seemingly put the game away in the top of the seventh.

With one down, Perkins lined a double to right. O'Rourke followed with a single to left, scoring Perkins to make it 6-3. O'Rourke took second on a fielding error, moved to third on a ground ball and when Rabasca walked, ball four was a wild pitch, allowing O'Rourke to score the seventh run, which at the time seemed superfluous, but in the end was enormous.

The bottom of the seventh started inauspiciously for the hosts as Cooper bounced out to Tinsman at short, but Anastos beat out a soft ground ball to Haller and Robichaud walked. Gray then hit a ground ball to Best, who tagged Anastos for the second out, putting Yarmouth on the brink of defeat.

But the Clippers refused to go quietly.

A ground ball off the bat of Austin to Tinsman appeared to end it, but Tinsman couldn't field the ball and making matters worse, she threw the ball away, allowing Robichaud and Gray to come home, putting Austin at second, cutting the deficit to 7-5 and bringing the potential tying run to the plate in the form of the dangerous Hutchinson.

As expected, Hutchinson delivered, but Rabasca managed to keep her in the park as Hutchinson hit a sharp double down the leftfield line, easily scoring Austin and suddenly it was a 7-6 contest.

That brought up Thompson with a chance to cap an amazing rally, but after recording two strikes, Rabasca took a little bit off and got Thompson to chase her changeup for strike three, ending a memorable 105 minutes of back-and-forth softball.

"That was a little stressful," said Rabasca. "I knew it could be either best case or worst case scenario. It wound up being best best case. I tried to try to get the batter out. I just got the call for the changeup and tried to throw it as convincingly as I could. I think I caught her on it. Luckily. I know I'm not the fastest pitcher, so I try to fool them as much as I can."

"I tried to forget about (the error)," said Tinsman. "I didn't want to get stressed about it. If I did, I'd mess up. I acted like we were winning by a lot. I was very relieved (when we got the last out), especially because I made that error."

"(That last inning) was uncharacteristic of us," Henrikson added. "We're usually pretty solid defensively. (Katie) came up with a big changeup pitch."

Cape Elizabeth didn't pound the ball like usual, but Perkins did have three hits, including a double and Tinsman went deep for the third time. Perkins and Tinsman scored twice, while Best, O'Rourke and Rabasca also touched home plate. Tinsman had two RBI, while Best, O'Rourke, Rabasca and Saturley also drove in a run.

Rabasca improved to 7-0 after allowing six runs (two earned) on seven hits and two walks. She struck out three, threw a wild pitch and hit a batter.

After the game, the Capers acted more like a team which had lost than one that was victorious.

"Usually we're a lot better at batting," Rabasca said. "(Gray's) a good pitcher. We just needed to see her for awhile."

"We were chasing bad pitches and when you chase bad pitches, good things aren't going to happen," said Henrikson. "We made a lot of mistakes.  Baserunning and coaching. Hopefully we learn from them and move forward. We didn't play our best, but we got the win."

For Yarmouth, Anastos had two hits. Gray scored twice, while Anastos, Austin, Levinson and Robichaud also scored runs. Cooper, Hutchinson, Robichaud and Thompson had RBI.

Gray fell to 3-2 after giving up seven runs (five earned) on eight hits. She walked six, struck out three and threw one wild pitch.

The Clippers had once again come close, but didn't have a win to show for their fine effort.

"I'm so tired of 'almost,'" lamented McMullin. "What's so great about a team like this is that we've been through so many situations. I'm happy the girls really believe in each other and they've bought into the coaches and believe they can rally. It's exciting. In the middle of the game is where we struggle. We're so young. We're focusing on offense. We had way too many pop-ups and fly balls. Look what happened when we put the ball on the ground. The best thing as a coach is having the players at the bottom of the lineup come through. I feel confident with our lineup and today it showed."

Cape Elizabeth was impressed with its opponent.

"Yarmouth was ready for us," Henrikson said. "They played hard. They're well coached. When you have an undefeated record, teams are ready for you. They had a lot of energy and they came to play. You have to take your hat off to them. They didn't quit."

Playoff push

Yarmouth is in the midst of a brutal schedule stretch and needs some wins to lock up a playoff spot. The Clippers host Greely Thursday, go to red-hot Falmouth Monday, play Greely again (in Cumberland) next Wednesday, then have a rematch with the Capers (in Cape Elizabeth) May 20.

If Yarmouth gets to the playoffs, it will be very, very dangerous.

"(The glass is definitely) half full," McMullin said. "The confidence we're getting out of remaining close in games like this is great. (The girls are) starting to really believe in themselves. It's the greatest bunch of girls. They're very competitive and it's a very competitive coaching staff. We need to get enough wins to get in the playoffs. Anything can happen from there. Confidence from these games will benefit us at the end."

With this win behind them, the Capers can now give serious thought to Fryeburg Friday.

"We'll hit BP a little harder getting ready for Friday," said Rabasca. "We're fired up. When we play cleanly, I think we can compete with them. All things considered, I'm proud of us. We're so much better than last year. We've come a long way and there's a long way to go."

"I knew we'd be a very good team, one of the best teams," Tinsman said. "I think we're going to be really good. We have some tough competition coming up. Fryeburg will be a good game. We need to bring our 'A' game on Friday. I think we have a good chance."

"We hope to play better Friday," Henrikson added. "We are capable of playing better. We can play a really clean game."

After playing the Raiders, Cape Elizabeth returns home next week for games against Freeport and Lake Region. A May 24 home showdown against Greely also looms.

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

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Cape Elizabeth junior pitcher Katie Rabasca delivers a strike.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Yarmouth senior pitcher Mckenzie Gray shows her form in the middle innings.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Cape Elizabeth freshman Megan Nicholson is tagged out at third by Yarmouth freshman Catherine Thompson in the fourth inning.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Cape Elizabeth senior Ellen Best makes contact.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Cape Elizabeth sophomore Hannah Saturley takes a rip.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Yarmouth junior shortstop Monica Austin handles a throw while Cape Elizabeth junior Mary Perkins slides safely in to second.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Cape Elizabeth sophomore shortstop Ashley Tinsman makes a throw across the diamond.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Yarmouth junior Julia Anastos lines a hit.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

On the play which turned the game around, Yarmouth freshman centerfielder Mari Cooper gets a glove on a deep drive from Cape Elizabeth sophomore Ashley Tinsman, but can't hold it as she collides with the fence and the ball goes over the wall for a two-run home run, which put the Capers ahead to stay.