KENTS HILL — En route to an overpowering start to its season, the Monmouth Academy softball team hadn’t encountered many teams able to stand up and give it a challenge.

On Tuesday, Winthrop was one of them. The Ramblers wiggled out of jams, charged back from deficits and made the Mustangs work to finish them off.

This time, mental toughness was going to be the key for Monmouth. And if there were any questions as to whether they had enough of it, the Mustangs were ready with a response.

Monmouth held off a resilient Winthrop team, 6-5, in eight innings in a Mountain Valley Conference game played at Kents Hill School.

“The kids really responded,” Monmouth coach David Kaplan said. “We had some clutch hits late. … They kept it together and never got down. Nobody ever got their head down.”

They had chances. Monmouth struggled to convert on prime scoring chances, leaving 13 runners on base, and even when the Mustangs (6-1) appeared on their way to victory with a 5-2 lead, Winthrop (5-2) rallied right back with a three-run home run from Molly Glaser in the bottom of the sixth.

When the game went into extras, Kaplan didn’t see any dip in confidence from his players.

“I just told them, ‘We’ve been on (them) all game,’ ” Kaplan said. ” ‘We’ve had baserunners galore. We’re going to score again, we’re going to have the lead, and they’re going to have to beat us.’ ”

Monmouth went to work in the top of the eighth. Emily Kaplan dropped a bunt and reached on an error, and Tia Day followed with a single up the middle. Winthrop induced a pop-up from the next batter, but Hannah Anderson — a force all game long with four RBIs — hit a deep fly to right-center field. Center fielder Maria Dostie raced into the gap but just missed coming up with the ball, and Kaplan was able to score from second for the go-ahead run.

Emily Chasse finished the Ramblers off in the bottom half of the inning to finally seal the win.

“It really brings our confidence up,” Anderson said. “We’re moving up in the boards now.”

Monmouth had outscored its last five opponents 87-5 but found runs tougher to come by against Winthrop pitcher Layne Audet. When the Mustangs did break through it was often via Anderson’s bat; the junior third baseman doubled into the right-center field gap to score Kaplan and Haylee Langlois for a 2-0 lead in the first, and then after Winthrop’s Moriah Hajduk tied the game with a two-run triple in the third, Anderson struck again with an inside-the-park home run, again to the opposite field, that brought in Langlois after she smacked a tie-breaking RBI single in the sixth.

“Hannah Anderson is the most locked-in I’ve ever seen her in her career,” coach Kaplan said. “She is just zoning every pitch, she’s hitting the ball to right field with authority, she’s pulling the ball when it’s inside, the kid is just on fire.”

Winthrop, which had navigated its way out of three bases-loaded jams without allowing a run, had an answer in the bottom half. Kayleigh Oberg led off with a single, Amber Raymond walked two batters later and Glaser followed with a sinking drive down the left-field line. The ball landed fair and kept rolling into the fenceless outfield, allowing Glaser to make it home easily and square the game again.

“I honestly didn’t know where it was, I don’t watch my hits, so I was just kind of running the bases,” Glaser said. “I saw my coach telling me to keep going, and I was like ‘Oh man, did I just do this?’ ”

Monmouth had a final rally ready, however, securing a victory that could loom large as the season continues.

“This is huge for Heal points, they’re worth a lot of points,” coach Kaplan said. “There are some teams in the league that aren’t going to compete well with us, but this is one team that is.”

Winthrop coach Chuck Gurney said that was his takeaway from the game. Even with the loss, containing a powerful Monmouth team was a sign that — after a five-win season last year — the Ramblers are ready to be a team to beat in both the MVC and Class C.

“For us to hang with them and take them into extra innings, it’s a big, big confidence-booster for my kids,” he said. “We’re growing by leaps and bounds. They’re way ahead of where I thought we’d be at this point.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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