SOUTH CHINA — Erskine and Lawrence both entered the Eastern A softball playoffs as tournament underdogs. Erskine is in its final year in Class A, while Lawrence fought from a rough start to the season to make the postseason for the first time in six years.

They played Tuesday in a preliminary-round game for the right to face No. 1 Brewer. Lawrence made things very interesting in the seventh inning, but Erskine pitcher Alyssa Gartley got the final two outs to preserve the Eagles’ 6-5 victory.

“It was a nail-biter,” Erskine coach Holly Tripp said. “It was really scary and then really exciting and then a little scary, and then a little exciting. So that was good.”

Erskine, the No. 8 seed, improves to 9-8 and will play at Brewer at 4 p.m., Thursday. No. 9 Lawrence ends its season at 7-10.

The Eagles appeared to be able to coast to the win with a 6-2 lead heading into the top of the seventh. But Lawrence’s Paige Belanger drew a leadoff walk, and one out later, Sydney Knowlton and Randa Tardy hit back-to-back singles to get the Bulldogs within 6-3. When Allison Blaisdell followed with a walk, Lawrence had the bases loaded and the tying run on first base.

Audri Fortier then punched a single through the right side to score two runs. Fortier stole second to put runners on second and third with the score 6-5. Gartley, who said afterward she was nervous but knew Erskine had it all the way, struck out the next batter to bring up Brianna Emery. On the first pitch, Emery hit a high bouncer up the middle that Gartley grabbed and threw to first for the out.

“I knew it was high, so I just pretty much jumped as high as I could and snagged it,” Gartley said.

Lawrence led 2-0 early before Erskine scored four times in the bottom of the third. The wind whipped across the field all day and the umpires called time on several occasions to prevent pitchers from having to deliver the ball through a sandstorm. Of course, this was also a problem with fly balls, particularly for the visiting Bulldogs. Lawrence coach Joey Marcoux said it also affected the pitching repertoire of senior Sarah Martin.

“When that wind is blowing in her face, her ball moves — so it’s still hard to hit — but it doesn’t have the bite to it,” Marcoux said. “So her change-up was not able to be effective today like it usually is.”

Erskine still hit the ball well, as Gartley and Avery Bond had three hits apiece and Alison Gauvin singled twice. Tripp said generating offense will be part of the key against Brewer.

“We need to play error-free ball,” Tripp said. “We have to be aggressive and we have to be ready to swing the bat.”

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, started the season 1-4 and those four losses were by a combined score of 55-3. Over the rest of the regular season, Lawrence allowed just over three runs per game. Marcoux credited a heart-to-heart talk with his seniors after the 1-4 start and his players learning to expect to win instead of hoping to win. When the Bulldogs players and coaches broke from their postgame huddle, the Lawrence fans gave them a nice ovation.

“They didn’t know how to win and that’s a tough thing — you can’t teach somebody that,” Marcoux said. “They have to experience it enough so that it comes naturally to them. The seniors should be commended, because now they’ve laid the foundation for our next wave of kids to come up through, and, hopefully, they’ve figured out that’s the expectation: We want to win.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

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