NORTH SMITHFIELD — This marquee clash of 11-0 teams certainly lived up to its lofty expectations.
North Smithfield scored three times in the bottom of the third inning and received an excellent outing from its senior ace pitcher, Karissa Carlton, to defeat East Greenwich, 4-3, on Friday afternoon before a large gathering on the Northmen’s campus.
This Division II showdown featured a little bit of everything, from strong pitching to exceptional defense, clutch two-out hitting, and a few home runs. But for the Northmen, it contained the one thing that mattered the most -- a hard-fought ‘W’ that kept their ‘0’ in the loss column intact.
“Before the game, we said to the girls, ‘Play our game,’” said N.S. coach Paul Mercier. “‘Show up today, and win or lose, play our game. Don’t let (East Greenwich) dictate the game. Do what we do best. Let’s be aggressive at the plate and let’s play good defense,’ and we did that.”
The Northmen only collected five hits off E.G. ace pitcher Rebecca Black, but two of them left the yard off the bats of No. 3 batter Nicole Turcotte and leadoff hitter Katherine West, and a third, an infield hit by Allison Depari with two outs in the third, drove in N.S.’s fourth run of the game -- a run that turned out to be a very significant one.
The Avengers, who was also limited to five hits by Carlton, held a 2-1 lead after an inning-and-a-half of play, and after the Northmen took their 4-2 lead in the third, the visitors cut their deficit in half in the fifth on a leadoff homer to center by No. 3 batter Jackie DeFusco.
But Carlton, who finished the game with a dozen strikeouts and four walks, came back to retire nine of the final 11 batters she faced, fanning seven of them.
One of the batters to reach base on her late in the contest, leadoff hitter Hannah Anderson, got as far as third base on a two-out outfield error and a stolen base, but she was stranded there, as Carlton responded in dramatic fashion by striking out the next batter she faced.
The Northmen broke on the board first in their opening swings on Turcotte’s homer, which came with two outs and saw the junior right fielder turn on the first pitch she saw from Black and crush it over the fence in straightaway center.
The Avengers took their lead on a two-out, two-run double by Sarah Gavin that was drilled into the left-field corner and hit the base of the fence, but the Northmen answered back in the third.
West tied the score with her home run, as she stepped into an 0-1 pitch from Black and deposited it over the fence in left, scattering a handful of fans who were standing near the fence watching the game.
Angela Pasquariello then worked a walk and went to third on an unusual ground-rule double by Turcotte that saw her sock a sharp line drive at third baseman Jackie Passaretti and the ball carom off Passaretti’s glove and sail out of play.
Black came back to strike out the next batter she faced (her third and last whiff of the game), but Emily Larson gave the hosts the lead with a sacrifice fly to center that drove in Pasquariello, and Depari followed with her infield hit to the left side of the diamond that plated Turcotte.
Black, who was backed by some errorless defense and great plays by Anderson at shortstop and Rachel Gammons in left field, set down the final 10 batters she faced, but the damage was already done.
“This group is very cohesive, and I’m very proud of every one of my players,” added Mercier. “They stepped up today, and again, they knew that, win or lose, they just had to show up and play a good game.”
The Northmen, who have outscored their 12 league opponents this year by a 94-10 count, have four games left, all against their Division II-North foes, and only one of them, next Thursday night’s game on the road against Cranston East, is against a team with a winning record.
The Avengers, who sit atop the Division II-South and have outscored their opposition, 102-19, have another big game next week against West Warwick (9-2), a team the Northmen edged by a 2-1 score back on April 21.
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24