NORTH SMITHFIELD — His players were in great spirits on Thursday afternoon, taking some batting practice with wiffleballs beyond the left field fence and sharing a laugh or two, but North Smithfield coach Tom Bourgeois found himself with a few butterflies a half hour before his team’s Division II single-elimination playoff opener against Portsmouth.
The Division II-North champion Northmen entered the game as the No. 3 seed in the 16-team tournament, but hosted a 14th-seeded Portsmouth team that bused into town with victories in three of its last four games, one of them last week over mighty Division II-South champion Prout.
But it didn’t take long for the Northmen to put their coach at ease and advance to the double-elimination portion of the Division II tournament. They scored solo runs in each of the first two innings, exploded for eight in the fourth, and rode the splendid one-hit pitching of sophomore ace Karissa Carlton to a 10-0 victory that was halted after 4 1/2 innings by the mercy rule and took just 63 minutes to complete.
The Northmen, who are 14-3 and winners of five straight games, will begin double-elimination play on Saturday with a 4 p.m. game back at home against sixth-seeded West Warwick, which posted a 2-0 triumph over 11th-seeded Tiverton in its playoff opener.
But before the Northmen could set their sights on the weekend, they had to put away the Patriots, who gave N.S. a scare in its opening at-bats by loading the bases with one out. Carlton walked the first batter she faced on four pitches, gave up a sharp single up the middle to Alison Hamilton, and issued a one-out free pass.
But Carlton left the sacks loaded by striking out the next batter she faced and getting the next one to pop out near the backstop to catcher Sam Archambault.
The Northmen then scored the only run they needed in the home half of the inning off Portsmouth pitcher Tori Kirby. Jess Tremblay led off with a walk, and after she stole second base and went to third on a bunt single by Jaime LaFazia, she tagged up and trotted home on a sacrifice fly to left field by freshman Julia Cloutier.
“The team wasn’t nervous -- they were really excited -- but I was a little bit nervous,” said Bourgeois. “But after the first inning was done, I calmed right down and we played well.”
Carlton also shook off her shaky start by retiring the final 12 batters she faced and striking out the side in order in the second and fifth innings. She was also backed by some errorless defense by her teammates and received some solid defensive plays from LaFazia in center and Meg Brodeur at first base.
“She walked the first batter of the game, which was uncharacteristic of her, but after that, she settled down and pitched a great game,” Bourgeois added of Carlton. “And that fifth inning, she was just hitting spot after spot. It was fun to watch.”
The Northmen’s second-inning run came home on a sacrifice fly to left by Archambault, and in the fourth, they marched a dozen batters to the plate to put the game away, and even though four of them got hits, three walked and another three got plunked by pitches.
Sidra Ethier, the lone senior on the Northmen’s roster, collected three of the Northmen’s six hits in the contest, and it was her ringing two-out, two-run single to left that highlighted the uprising.
Tara Larson finished the game with three runs scored and as many stolen bases, Cloutier and Archambault each drove in two runs, and Brodeur also added a run-scoring single.
“We manufactured some runs and really executed today,” said Bourgeois. “I’m glad to see everyone’s hard work paying off. We’re playing our best ball at the right time and we’re going to try to continue playing it.”