SOUTH CHINA — Timing is everything.
The Erskine Academy softball team stranded five runners through the first three innings alone, but got the timely hits late when it needed them to score a come-from-behind, walk-off 3-2 win over Maranacook on Friday.
“We stranded a bunch at the beginning but I think they felt confident because they were getting the bat on the ball,” Erskine coach Holly Tripp said. “For some reason we struggle early with just not touching it at all. They knew, â€˜we have to hit the top of the ball, we’ve got to put it in play on the ground.’ They knew. They were OK. It just took awhile.”
After tying the game in the sixth, junior Taylor Boucher led off the bottom of the seventh by jumping on the first pitch she saw and lacing it to right-center field for a double.
“First pitch is usually a strike so just try to go for it as soon as you can,” Boucher said. “It was kind of right down the middle, just waiting for me to hit it.”
Junior Avery Bond followed with a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt, and on a two-two count junior Kaitlyn Sutter delivered with a line drive over Maranacook junior shortstop Elise Linton to plate Boucher for the win.
“Obviously I was pretty nervous,” Sutter said. “I had let two pretty good ones go by but that one that came down was perfect and it felt really good to hit.
“…I was so excited. I wanted to keep running.”
Sutter finished the game 2 for 2 with two singles and two walks, Boucher was 2 for 4 and junior Emma Robertson was 2 for 3 with a single and a double. The Eagles also got an unexpected lift from No. 9 hitter, freshman catcher Taylor McLaggan, who was 2 for 3 with a pair of doubles.
“All of a sudden today she had two doubles and I don’t know where that came from,” Tripp said. “Maybe she can keep it up.”
Sophomore Mallory Chamberlain battled through back pain for the win in the circle, as the right-hander allowed just the two runs on five hits while striking out six.
“Mallory did a great job,” Tripp said. “She’s always pitching through pain, but she’s really tough and she had some key strikeouts that just came from nowhere. She moved the ball around really well, threw her change up a little bit, but productively when she did.”
Maranacook, meanwhile, got a strong effort from junior Lilli McLaughlin in the loss. The first-year pitcher only struck out one, but effectively mixed her pitches and allowed the Bears’ defense to — aside from one error — make the plays behind her.
“We made some plays that we haven’t made,” Maranacook coach Don Beckwith said. “We didn’t fold when it was close, so that was cool. It was fun.
“…(McLaughlin) is a very good athlete. If she pitched more she could be something special. We just have to get her throwing more in the offseason.”
Offensively, junior Amber Ridlon led the way for Maranacook with a single, triple and an RBI, sophomore Lindsy Hilton was 2 for 3 with a pair of singles and senior Sam Tlumac had a double and scored a run.
The contest began under a cold, light rain and — much like the weather — neither team’s chances of scoring looked all too optimistic in the early going, for different reasons.
Erskine had runners on first and second in both the first and third innings, but each time could not get the key hit to bring any of them home — the latter of those opportunities squelched by a fantastic running catch from Tlumac in center with two outs.
“We definitely could have taken better advantage of our situations,” Sutter said, “but in the end it worked out.”
Maranacook, meanwhile, just couldn’t get on base. The Black Bears didn’t get a runner on until Tlumac was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the third.
As the rain stopped and the weather began to improve, however, so did each team’s scoring ability.
Maranacook was the first to break through, as senior Lindsay Jackson reached base on a fielder’s choice and then promptly stole second. After a pop out to short from sophomore Sydney Cameron, freshman Autumn Munn hit a line drive up the middle that hit second base and awkwardly bounced towards first. The unconventional carom allowed Jackson enough time to score from second without a throw to try and get her at the plate.
“My focus there was making sure the girls knew there was nothing they could do,” Tripp said. “That’s just unlucky.”
The Black Bears doubled their advantage in the following inning as Tlumac led off with a double and later came around to score on a two-out triple from Ridlon.
“She has a big softball IQ,” Beckwith said of Ridlon. “She could play at the next level.”
In the bottom half of the fifth, Erskine finally began to capitalize on some of its opportunities though.
McLaggan led off the inning with a double, and moved over to third on a sacrifice bunt from Boucher. Bond followed by grounding the ball to Cameron at third, who alertly threw home to senior catcher Ashley Michaud to just barely get McLaggan trying to score from third.
“I did indeed think that she was safe,” Tripp said, “but she wasn’t and that’s fine.”
The Eagles did manage to slice into the deficit before the end of the inning, however, as Robertson — following a walk to Sutter — crushed a double to score Bond to make it 2-1.
Maranacook had a runner on third with two outs in the top of the sixth but could not increase its lead, and in the bottom half of the inning Erskine tied things up.
Sophomore MacKenzie Gayer led off with a single, but was thrown out at second on a fielder’s choice back to McLaughlin by Chamberlain. The Eagles tried to sacrifice with sophomore Megan Dunn — who had successfully laid one down in the second inning — but she could not keep her first two attempts fair and ultimately popped out to Michaud in foul territory.
The failed sacrifice was proven moot moments later though, as McLaggan split the gap in left-center field to score Chamberlain from first. The freshman was thrown out trying to stretch the double into a triple to end the inning, but the damage had been done to tie the game up at 2-2.
Chamberlain proceeded to set the Black Bears down in order in the top of the seventh to set the stage for the dramatic finish.
“We had faith though that we were going to come through,” Boucher said, “and that our bats could get onto the balls and get us some runs to win the game.”
After starting the season with five straight losses, Erskine (2-5 Eastern Class B) has now won two in a row. The Eagles will look to make it three straight Monday at 4 p.m. when they travel to take on Maine Central Institute.
As for Maranacook (3-4 Western Class C), it will look to get back on track when it returns home Monday for a 4 p.m. start against Gardiner. The Black Bears are 3-0 at home and 0-4 on the road.
Evan Crawley——621-5640 | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @Evan_Crawley