NORTH SMITHFIELD â€” This one was almost too close for comfort.
Owners of a 7-1 lead just two innings into its Division II crossover contest with Middletown on Thursday afternoon, North Smithfield appeared to be well on its way to an easy win, and possibly one of the mercy-rule variety.
But the visiting Islanders did everything they could to hang in the contest. They scored twice in each of the third and fifth innings and nearly rallied for some more runs in the sixth, but still found itself on the losing end of an 8-5 score that gave the Division II-North leading Northmen their sixth straight victory.
â€śI was expecting a tough game from them and we got one,â€ť N.S. coach Tom Bourgeois said of Middletown. â€śThatâ€™s probably the toughest team weâ€™ve played so far this year. Portsmouth was another good team.â€ť
While this matchup against one of the Southâ€™s best teams was the buzz around town, so was the sight of the softball fieldâ€™s new outfield fence that stood 190 feet from home plate.
And the first player to send a ball over it was second baseman Tara Larson, who had been struggling at the plate in the first few weeks of the season and was dropped to the No. 9 spot in the lineup.
But with one gone in the third, Larson turned on a 2-2 pitch from Middletown ace McKenna Barlow and crushed it well over the fence in left field for a solo homer -- and the first home run trot in the fieldâ€™s existence.
â€śIâ€™m glad it was one of our girls who got the first home run,â€ť Bourgeois said with a smile. â€śTara was struggling, but she made some adjustments. Sheâ€™s been working hard, and in the last two games, sheâ€™s been hitting the ball hard.â€ť
The Northmen didnâ€™t hit the ball particularly hard in the first inning, but that didnâ€™t stop them from taking a quick 2-0 lead.
Jaime LaFazia led off with a walk, and after Jessica Tremblay grounded a single to center, Megan Brodeur blooped a base hit to right that drove in LaFazia. Katherine West then walked, and Sam Archambault drove in Tremblay with a sacrifice fly to right.
The visitors scored their first run in the second when a seemingly-harmless, two-out infield grounder turned into an adventurous double error, but the Northmen responded with five runs in the bottom of the inning.
With one out, they quickly loaded the bases for Brodeur, who drove in another run with an opposite-field bloop hit to right that dropped among three players. West drove in the second run with a groundout, and on that out, LaFazia raced home with the third when she broke to the plate and scored on an ill-advised throw to another base.
A two-out infield hit by Archambault made it a 6-1 game, and she scored on a triple by Angela Pasquariello that she laced down the right-field line.
The Islanders came back with two runs in the third, but Larson answered with her home run that had her teammates rushing to the plate to joyously greet her.
Unfortunately for the Northmen, Larsonâ€™s homer would be their last hit of the game, as Barlow bounced back nicely and set down 11 of their final 12 batters she faced.
â€śWe started out really strong, but their pitcher settled down and held us the rest of the way,â€ť added Bourgeois. â€śShe did a good job.â€ť
The Islanders struck again in the fifth, when with one gone, Barlow walked and Nina Traglia hammered a two-run homer over the fence in straightaway center.
And they added some drama to the contest in the sixth by putting runners on first and second with one gone and the heart of their lineup coming to the plate. But Tremblay, N.S.â€™s pitcher, ended the threat with a soft liner to shortstop Angela Barber and a strikeout.
Tremblay didnâ€™t end up with one of her finest outings, but she still settled on a seven-hitter that saw her strike out seven batters and give up four walks and three earned runs. She also collected two hits, as did Brodeur and Larson, and score twice, as did LaFazia and Larson.
The Northmen will continue their homestand tomorrow with a 10 a.m. makeup game against division foe Scituate and a 3:45 p.m. game on Wednesday against another South team, Rogers.