PROVIDENCE --- It’s been said time and time again that it’s tough to beat a team three times in a season, and on Wednesday night, Lincoln High realized how difficult a task that is in its Division I losers’ bracket final with longtime nemesis Cumberland High.
After getting swept in their regular-season series with the Lions, the Clippers made sure their third time playing their rivals was indeed the charm.
Bridget Connors’ two-out, run-scoring base hit in the top of the second inning was the difference in a superb pitchers’ duel between Cumberland’s Bethany Paul and Lincoln’s Alyssa McCoart and fetched the Clippers a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Rhode Island College.
The fourth-seeded Clippers (17-5), who dropped into the losers’ bracket on Monday by suffering a 1-0 defeat to Mount St. Charles Academy, but came back the next day to edge Toll Gate High, 4-3, will take on Cranston West High on Friday at 7:30 p.m. back at RIC.
But before the Clippers could set their sights on their future, they had to deal with the present and a very tough foe in the top-seeded Lions (18-4) that beat them by scores of 8-5 and 5-1.
“We had to play a perfect game to beat them, and tonight, we did,” remarked Cumberland coach Marty Crowley. “Lincoln’s a very, very good team, and at some point, I knew we were going to run into each other (in the playoffs). But I can’t say enough about my kids. They’re resilient and they did a great job.”
The Lions also did a great job, one that would have been good enough to win a lot of softball games, but on this night, they were unable to do much with the strong pitching of Paul, who struck out nine batters and limited them to a half dozen singles and a walk.
“This doesn’t take anything away from what this team accomplished,” added Lincoln coach Jon Bruckner. “This is a tremendous group of girls that is very dedicated, and they fought, fought, fought (in the losers’ bracket). I’m really proud of the way they bounced back. They had a heck of a season.”
The Clippers struck fear in the Lions in their opening at-bats. Just four pitches into the contest, they loaded the bases on a line single to center by Connors, a bunt hit by Krissy Peffer, and a line single to right-center by Paul.
But McCoart squirmed off the hook by getting the next three outs on a pair of popouts to second baseman Barbara Jackson, sandwiched around a strikeout.
“The first inning, we came out and our bats were flying,” noted Crowley. “We didn’t score, but I think we set the tone early. Even though they beat us twice, this time, we weren’t going to be pushed around.”
The Clippers then broke on the board in the second on Connors’ timely hit, as she poked a 1-0 pitch into left-center to drive in Kelsey Cahill, who worked a one-out walk and stole second with two gone.
That run snapped McCoart’s consecutive scoreless inning streak at 29, a run that began in the Lions’ second-to-last regular-season game, a 5-1 triumph on May 26 over the Clippers that gave Lincoln the Division I-North title.
But the Central Connecticut State University-bound McCoart, who ended up yielding eight hits and fanning five batters, got tougher as the duel progressed and only allowed two more runners to get as far as second base over the next five innings.
“Alyssa pitched her way out of so many jams,” added Bruckner. “This game could have been much different than a 1-0 (game), but she had a lot of heart on the mound and kept us in the game right to the last out.”
The Lions, meanwhile, had a handful of chances to even the game in the final six innings, but they were never able to produce a timely two-out hit. Five of the seven runners they stranded on base were in scoring position. And that’s not all.
“I think the key was keeping their top two batters (Jackson and Emma Hart) off the bases,” remarked Crowley. “We never got in that trouble with (No. 3 batter Lindsay) Mayer coming up. We could just play normal defense and not have to worry about any trick stuff.
“We held Mayer to a single and (cleanup batter) McCoart to a single and an error, but outside of that, we limited their two biggest threats.”
Two of the Clippers’ big threats also finished the night with excellent games at the plate. Connors ended up going 3-for-4, and Paul added two hits and a walk. Chelsea Brennan had two of the Lions’ hits.
“(Connors) did a great job at the top of the order and Beth was outstanding,” said Crowley. “And we played great defense once again and made the plays when we had to (make them) behind (Paul). We played a great game and I’m proud of the girls.”
Cumberland 010 000 0--1-8-1
Lincoln 000 000 0--0-6-0
Bethany Paul and Krissy Peffer; Alyssa McCoart and Allie Dzialo.