LINCOLN – Cumberland exacted revenge against Lincoln in the best way possible: with a victory in the District IV softball championship game.
After dropping a one-run decision to Lincoln last Friday, its lone loss of pool play, Cumberland used a five-run fifth inning to separate itself in Thursday’s title bout and held on for a 9-7 win at Sullivan Field.
Manager Mike Gillardi’s squad is headed back to the state tournament for a second consecutive year, and unlike last summer, when Cumberland lost both games it played in the double-elimination tourney, he hopes his team can stick around longer this time.
“I’m excited to move on because I like this group of girls, and I want to hang out with them a little bit longer because they’re good kids,” said Gillardi, whose club will oppose the District I champion on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at Riverside Little League.
Thursday’s outcome wasn’t certain until the final at-bat, when Cumberland reliever Katerina Kent induced a game-ending flyout with the tying run at the plate for Lincoln. A four-run uprising in the top of the sixth pulled Lincoln within a pair of runs, after Cumberland’s five-spot in the bottom of the fifth gave it a 9-3 cushion.
Both teams entered the winner-take-all tilt with plenty of confidence thanks to successful pool play performances. Lincoln outscored its opponents 26-5 en route to a 4-0 record, while Cumberland posted a 40-8 margin and finished 3-1.
Playing its third consecutive game without ace pitcher Madeline Georgeu, away on a family vacation, Lincoln handed the ball to Megan Chatowsky, who defeated Cumberland in last week’s 6-5 win.
“[Georgeu]’s our No. 1 pitcher, but we were comfortable with Megan,” Lincoln manager Monique Clauson said. “She pitched well. I don’t think it was pitching as much as they hit the ball hard and we had a few miscues.”
Chatowsky yielded 11 hits and three walks in a complete-game effort.
“We hit the ball a little bit better tonight,” Gillardi said. “Same pitcher, and she kind of shut us down last time. We didn’t find any holes when we did hit the ball, and tonight a few of them dropped for us. That’s softball.”
A 4-3 edge through four frames put Cumberland six outs away from victory, and a win seemed even more likely after its five-run fifth. Ellie Ackerman, Maddi Leite, Emily Durand and Sam Jalbert each supplied run-scoring hits.
“We couldn’t stop the bleeding that last inning. It did us in,” Clauson said. “We showed a lot of heart coming back. It was just too big of a hole to come back from.”
Despite a six-run deficit, Lincoln refused to go quietly in the sixth, which got off to an inauspicious start. Erin Hannan’s attempt to stretch her leadoff double into a triple proved costly, as a finely executed 8-6-5 relay cut her down at third base for the inning’s first out.
“I think she was just hyped up,” Clauson said. “It would have been nice to stop her at second, but emotions got the best of her, I think.”
Nonetheless, five of Lincoln’s next six batters reached base, with Martha Peppes’ two-out, two-run double trimming Cumberland’s lead to 9-7 and knocking out starter Sydney Provencal.
With his team in need of a spark, Gillardi called on Kent.
“I was trying to figure out something that might work – go to the mound, see how Sydney’s doing,” Gillardi said. “She was fine. I was nervous. She wasn’t.”
Kent eased those nerves, retiring the only batter she faced to send Cumberland back to the state tournament.
Gillardi has reason to believe this year will be different.
“This is a good, talented group of young ladies,” Gillardi said. “If they play up to their abilities, then I’ll put them up against anybody. That’s how confident I am in them.”