SOUTH CHINA — Carrying a .667 winning percentage while averaging nearly seven run per game, Holly Tripp wanted to find a way to motivate her team down the season’s stretch drive. She thought about the 81 runs her Erskine Academy softball team scored through its first 12 games, but not before she noticed all the runs the Eagles hadn’t scored.

“I told them if I totaled up all the runners you guys have left on base individually, it equals 71. They were like… ‘WHAAAAT?!?!'” Tripp said. “It was a just a little bit of ownership, I think. They know they’ve got to get more runners home. It was good.”

The message sunk in Friday. Erskine scored three runs in the first inning and three more in the fourth in a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference crossover, posting an efficient 6-3 win over the Rams which guaranteed the Eagles (9-4) a winning season with three contests remaining. Senior leadoff hitter Lydia Boucher went 2 for 4 with a two-run double, while junior catcher MaKenzie Strout collected three of Erskine’s 12 hits on the day.

The Eagles went 6 for 11 as a group with runners in scoring position, stranding only six on base for the day. Half of those came in a fifth inning where, after Cony pitcher Gaby McGuire recorded two quick outs to open the frame, Erskine loaded the bases for No. 9 hitter Emma Fortin. Fortin (1 for 3 with an RBI) flew out to deep center field for the final out of a scoreless inning.

“We were pumped. We wanted to win this game so bad,” Boucher said. ‘Tripp said we needed to (win) two games this week, and so we knew we had to do it. We were just ready to get it.”

What the Eagles did which the Rams could not was stack hits on top of one another, particularly after getting runners on base early in innings. Where Erskine put a runner on base with one out or fewer four times in six innings, Cony put its leadoff batter on base only once — when McGuire reached via an error in the sixth and eventually came around to score on the Eagles’ second error of the inning.

Erskine forced McGuire to throw 25 pitches without recording an out while rapping out five consecutive hits to begin the three-run first, including Kayla Hodgkins’ RBI double down the left field line. Chiara Mahoney and Katelyn Rollins also had run-scoring singles in the frame.

“When we see the person in front of us get a hit, we want to get a hit, and then the next person wants to get a hit,” Boucher said. “We’re really good at rallying and scoring a lot of runs as a group.”

McGuire was good from there, though, needing only 16 additional pitches to get to the fourth inning without further damage. But in that fourth, four straight one-out hits capped by Boucher’s double to left-center, three more came across.

Like her counterpart Hodgkins, McGuire pitched mostly to contact. The biggest difference being that Erskine’s bats found safe landing spots, while Hodgkins limited Cony to just five hits and a single earned run without a walk. Hodgkins struck out six, four of those on incredibly deceptive changeups.

“When we get in tough situations, Kayla just calms down and thinks about things,” Strout said. “We huddle up and we talk it through.”

“If they’re hitting gaps, it’s because they’re hitting line drives,” Cony coach Angela McKenna said. “That’s what we want (McGuire) to do is throw it in there so our team can defend it. But if they’re finding gaps, that’s just how it’s going to go sometimes the whole inning.”

Erskine’s defense broke down in the fourth, allowing Cony to score twice and cut the Eagles’ lead to 3-2.

Tanley Tibbetts tripled down the left field line and scored on Carly Lettre’s single, Lettre later scoring on Alexis Couverette’s sacrifice fly to right. Another error gave Cony the chance to tie the game, but a ground ball gobbled up by Boucher brought end to the threat.

“We didn’t play bad, we just were hitting pop-ups but giving them too much time to get under the ball,” said McKenna, whose squad dropped a 7-4 decision at Hampden on Thursday after errors opened the floodgates to a seven-run fourth inning for the Broncos. “We’ve just got to get a game where we’re hitting well and we’re playing well defensively all in one.”

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