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PORTLAND—This was just the beginning.
Monday afternoon at Larry K. Mahaney Athletic Park, McAuley’s softball team won its first game of the 2015 season, new coach Dawn Armandi registered the first victory of her career and the Lions hinted that bigger and better things are in store this spring.
Hosting rival Cheverus on a day in which predicted rain never came to fruition, McAuley turned to the arm and bat of senior Taylor Whaley and never looked back.
Whaley hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning and the Lions tacked on five more runs in the third. McAuley went ahead, 8-0, in the fourth, then, after the Stags finally got to Whaley for two runs in the top of the sixth, scored twice more in the bottom half, when standout sophomore centerfielder Ally Tillotson hit a home run. Whaley slammed the door from there and the Lions prevailed, 10-2.
Whaley allowed six hits and struck out nine while pacing the offense with two hits, two runs scored and three RBI and McAuley balanced its record at 1-1, dropping Cheverus to 0-2 in the process.
“It feels great,” said Whaley. “I was really excited to be at home. Obviously beating Cheverus is a big win for us. We’ll go forward from this.”
McAuley got to the postseason last spring, snapping a two-year drought and this spring, the Lions believe they can be a top contender under Armandi, a former standout player at Gray-New Gloucester High School and the University of Southern Maine, who has served as an assistant for several seasons with the school’s powerhouse basketball program.
McAuley opened with a hard-fought 5-4 loss at Marshwood last week, in a contest which saw the Lions almost pull off a dramatic seventh inning rally.
“We had more positives from that game than we had negatives,” Whaley said. “We never stopped fighting. We didn’t have players who were on vacation and we had injuries. We could have won, but there were definitely more positives.”
Cheverus had a breakthrough season in 2014, reaching the semifinals, and also has a new coach this spring, former assistant Cynthia Wescott.
The Stags began with a 12-10 home loss to Deering, in a game which saw the Rams rally for three decisive runs in the seventh inning.
While the schools’ softball rivalry is nowhere near as impassioned as basketball, Cheverus and McAuley have played some memorable softball games over the past decade. Heading into Monday’s contest, each team had prevailed on six occasions (see sidebar, below), with the Stags capturing the past three.
This time, however, the Lions were in command from the start.
Cheverus made solid contact against Whaley in the top of the first inning, but had nothing to show for it.
Leading off, junior second baseman Sophia Giancotti crushed a ball to centerfield, but Tillotson ran it down. After senior shortstop Olivia Mull beat out an infield hit, senior catcher Margaret Rigney lined out to McAuley second baseman Kim Fischer. Mull stole second, but Whaley ended the frame by fanning senior first baseman Quinn Snyder.
The Lions struck for two runs in the bottom of the first against Stags freshman starting pitcher Sydney Levesque.
After freshman shortstop Anya Chase grounded out back to the mound, Tillotson reached on a throwing error. Fischer was out on a sacrifice bunt, but Tillotson raced all the way to third on the play. Whaley then crushed a ball deep down the leftfield line. The only question was if it would stay fair and it did, barely. Tillotson easily scored the first run of the game and Whaley circled the bases to make it 2-0 McAuley.
“I wasn’t sure it would stay fair,” said Whaley. “I didn’t think it would be a home run. I shouldn’t have been looking at it.”
Levesque got third baseman Chelsea Rairdon to pop out to end the frame, but the Lions had a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The visitors had a good chance to score in the top of the second, but couldn’t capitalize.
Senior centerfielder Josie Bradshaw led off with a double down the rightfield line. After freshman third baseman Izzy Santoro struck out, Levesque lofted a pop out toward first baseman Ashley Littlefield, but the ball dropped just behind her, putting runners at the corners. After pinch-runner Meredith Cilley stole second, Whaley bore down and struck out sophomore Brooke Dawson and rightfielder Cassidy McCusker swinging to get out of the jam.
Levesque had her best inning in the bottom of the second, striking out catcher Lillie Donovan, getting Littlefield to ground out to third and after rightfielder Gabby Begos drew a walk, Begos was caught stealing.
Whaley started the top of the third by inducing a popup back to the mound off the bat of Giancotti. Mull grounded out to third, with Rairdon making a nice play, and Whaley caught Rigney looking at strike three.
McAuley then blew the game open in the bottom of the third.
Leading off, leftfielder Megan Bailey reached on a bloop single. Chase drew a walk and Tillotson did the same to load the bases. That brought up Fischer, who blooped a single to left, scoring Bailey to make it 3-0. Whaley followed with a sharp ground ball to Mull, who threw to third for a force out with Chase coming home with the fourth run. When Rairdon flew out to center, it appeared Cheverus would avoid further damage, but Fischer and Whaley pulled off a double steal and Donovan’s bunt was thrown away, allowing both runners to score and Donovan to move to second. Littlefield then singled to center and Donovan came home to make it 7-0. Begos struck out, but the Lions had a comfortable advantage.
Whaley remained strong in the fourth, striking out Snyder, getting Bradshaw to line to first, with Littlefield making a nice stab, and inducing a ground ball back to the mound off the bat of Santoro.
McAuley’s eighth run came in the bottom half.
Bailey fouled out to Rigney leading off, but Chase doubled to left, took third on a wild pitch and scored when Tillotson singled to center. Fischer bunted into an out and when Tillotson stretched for third, she too was thrown out to end the frame.
Whaley began the fifth by striking out her opposite number, Levesque. After Dawson flew out to left, McCusker hit a slow roller to first and Littlefield grabbed the ball and stepped on the bag to end the inning.
Levesque allowed a leadoff single to left by Whaley in the bottom half, but after Rairdon sacrificed Whaley to second, Levesque struck out Donovan and got Littlefield to fly out.
The Stags finally got to Whaley in the sixth.
First, Giancotti and Mull both grounded out to shortstop, marking 13 straight batters retired by the Lions’ ace, but Rigney singled to right and Snyder doubled to deep right-center, bringing Cheverus’ first run home. Snyder took third on the throw home and Bradshaw followed with a double off Begos’ glove, scoring Snyder to make it 8-2.
“That’s the offense we need to sustain through seven full innings,” Wescott said. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting the bats hot.”
Whaley escaped further damage by getting Santoro to ground out to third.
McAuley got the runs right back in there half, thanks to the booming bat of Tillotson.
After pinch-hitter Trik Li bunted into an out and Bailey grounded out to third, Chase’s fly ball to rightfield was dropped and Tillotson ripped a sharp ground ball that eluded both the third baseman and leftfielder and Tillotson circled the bases for a 10-2 lead. Fischer kept the inning alive with a single, but Whaley bunted into an out to end it.
Whaley didn’t waste any time ending the game in the seventh, catching Levesque looking at strike three, getting Dawson to hit a pop foul to Rairdon, then catching Emily Haley looking at strike three to end the contest in a tidy 80 minutes.
“It’s exciting,” said Armandi, of win number one in her career. “It’s nice to have almost everybody back. We hit much better today. It seemed more consistent.”
Whaley got the job done on both offense and defense. She had two hits, three RBI, scored twice and stole a base. On the hill, Whaley allowed just two earned runs on six hits and no walks. She struck out nine.
“I felt pretty good,” Whaley said. “I wanted to improve from last game. I just tried to stay confident and keep going.”
“Taylor had more speed today than she had the other day,” said Armandi. “I think she came back with a vengeance. She hit well too. That was a beautiful (home run).”
Fischer and Tillotson also had multiple hits. Chase scored three times, Tillotson had two runs scored and Bailey, Donovan and Fischer each touched home plate once. Tillotson drove in three runs, while Fischer and Littlefield had one RBI apiece.
Cheverus got a pair of hits from Bradshaw. Rigney and Snyder both scored once and Bradshaw and Snyder each had RBI.
Levesque took the loss after giving up 10 runs (just three earned) on nine hits in six innings of work. She walked three, struck out three and threw a wild pitch.
“All the credit to (McAuley),” said Wescott. “(Whaley) looked really good. She made us chase. We’ll see them again though. We’re plagued by injuries right now. Casey Simpson came up with a hamstring injury. That’s a nagging injury. Our catcher came up lame. Her knee has been bothering her.”
Cheverus seeks its first victory Wednesday at Marshwood. The Stags return home Monday of next week to face Windham.
“A big thing with us is going game-by-game,” Wescott said. “We’ll flush this and get rid of it. I hope there’s not a hangover effect. Marshwood’s a tough trip.”
Despite the 0-2 start, the Stags are enjoying the season to date.
“I love the kids,” Wescott said. “They’re just a really great group. They work hard. Hopefully our hard work starts to pay off.”
McAuley looks to make it two straight wins when it goes to Windham Wednesday. The Lions are home again Friday to battle Westbrook.
“Everyone on the team is willing to learn and is confident,” Whaley said. “Everyone’s connecting with the new coaches. We’re excited. We want to win. We just have to fix the little things and try to get better every week.”
“We’ve still got a lot to work on,” Armandi said. “I feel like things are coming along. The girls are doing what we ask them to do.”
McAuley’s Lillie Donovan takes a big swing.
Cheverus second baseman Sophia Giancotti fields a ground ball.
Cheverus’ Sophia Giancotti makes contact.
Cheverus freshman Sydney Levesque delivers a pitch.
Cheverus’ Cassidy McCusker takes a swing.
Cheverus shortstop Olivia Mull registers a force out at second on McAuley’s Gabby Begos.
McAuley’s Lillie Donovan slides into home as Cheverus catcher Margaret Rigney stands in the way. Donovan was safe on the play.
McAuley’s Gabby Begos makes contact.
Cheverus senior catcher Margaret Rigney catches a pitch.
Cheverus freshman third baseman Izzy Santoro throws out McAuley’s Ashley Littlefield.
McAuley 2 @ Cheverus 0
McAuley 9 @ Cheverus 1
@ McAuley 13 Cheverus 12
@ Cheverus 6 McAuley 3
Cheverus 13 @ McAuley 0 (5)
@ Cheverus 15 McAuley 6
McAuley 3 @ Cheverus 1
McAuley 10 Cheverus 9 (8)
McAuley 9 @ Cheverus 3
McAuley senior ace Taylor Whaley delivers a strike during the Lions’ 10-2 home win over Cheverus Monday afternoon. Whaley also homered as McAuley won its first game of the season.
Joe Carpine 365digitalphotography.com
More photos below.
C- 000 002 0- 2 6 3
M- 205 102 x- 10 9 0
Whaley homered to left, Tillotson and Whaley scored.
Fischer singled to left, Bailey scored. Whaley grounded into force play, Chase scored. Fischer and Whaley scored on error. Littlefield doubled to center, Donovan scored.
Tillotson singled to center, Chase scored.
Snyder doubled to center, Rigney scored. Bradshaw doubled to right, Snyder scored.
Tillotson homered to left, Chase and Tillotson scored.
M- Fischer, Tillotson, Whaley
C- Rigney, Snyder
M- Chase 3, Tillotson, Whaley 2, Bailey, Donovan, Fischer
C- Bradshaw, Snyder
M- Tillotson, Whaley 3, Fischer, Littefield
C- Bradshaw 2, Snyder
M- Chase, Littlefield
M- Tillotson, Whaley
C- Cilley, Mull
M- Fischer, Whaley
Left on base:
Levesque and Rigney; Whaley and Donovan
Levesque (L, 1-1) 6 IP 9 H 10 R 3 ER 3 BB 3 K 1 WP
Whaley (W, 1-1) 7 IP 6 H 2 R 2 ER 0 BB 9 K