LINCOLN — The sixth time was the charm.
After watching a successful season get cut short in the Division III semifinal round in each of the last five years, Davies took a torch to the history books and finally earned the right to play for a state championship.
A 10-run uprising in the home half of the second inning, sparked by a grand slam home run to center field by Madison Cooper, and another remarkable outing by ace pitcher Madison Goodhart were the keys to the Patriots’ 15-2 triumph over Central Falls on Friday afternoon.
The victory, which was halted after 4½ innings by the mercy rule, vaults the Patriots into next week’s best-of-three title series versus defending champion Central and gives the fans that have followed these two teams throughout the season the matchup they have long anticipated.
“This team has been playing like a championship team all year,” added C.F. assistant coach Joe Handy, who handled the post-game discussions with the media after head coach Scott Cooper was overcome with emotion following the historic win.
“These girls definitely deserve this chance (to play for a championship), and like we’ve been telling them, it doesn’t matter at this point whether they win or lose. We’re very proud of them right now, but they definitely have what it takes to win it all.”
Both foes are 16-1 and were co-champions of the regular season. They split their regular-season series – Davies won in their April 4 season opener, 4-2, but the Knights captured the May 2 rematch, 9-6 – and needed a coin flip to determine who would be the first (Davies) and second (Central) seeds.
The finals will be a showdown between the two most successful Division III programs in the past six years. The Patriots have captured 76 regular-season games in those half dozen years, while the Knights have won 72.
But while the Knights have been to the finals twice, winning it all last season and losing in 2010 to Woonsocket, the Patriots have never seen the inside of Rhode Island College’s stadium – until now.
“It’s going to be a very tough test against Central obviously,” offered Handy. “Central’s a good team, but I think we’re ready for them. The girls worked hard to get to this point. They practice three hours a day and they’ve worked hard from start to finish, and we’re very proud of them.”
There were quite a few reasons for both coaches and the fans to be proud of the Patriots. The hosts belted out 14 hits in their four innings at the plate, and Goodhart was solid in tossing a three-hitter that saw the freshman strike out six batters and allow no walks or earned runs.
The Warriors struck for their first run in their opening swings, but the hosts tied the score in the bottom of the first when Goodhart led off with a single and eventually scored on a two-out triple by Ashley Cuccorelli.
Davies then took all the drama out of the game with its second-inning rally that saw them march 13 batters to the fence and take the lead for good on a run-scoring single to left by No. 9 batter Caterina Martinez.
A passed ball allowed Rosaliz Torres to race home with the second run of the inning, and after Goodhart and Kaitlin Flynn drew walks to load the bases, Cooper unloaded them with her long drive to center that made it a 7-1 game.
Three batters later, Victoria Lopes upped Davies’ lead to 9-1 with a two-run triple down the right-field line, and Kassandra Therrien and Martinez later drove in runs to push the Patriots’ lead into double digits.
Cooper, the Patriots’ freshman catcher and No. 3 batter, had a magnificent day at the dish and was a double short of the cycle, as she went 3-for-4 with an RBI triple in the third and ended up with six runs batted in.
Martinez had a 3-for-3 afternoon, Wilmarie Cruz, Goodhart, and Cuccorelli each added two hits, Cuccorelli drove in two runs, and Goodhart scored four times.
Sasha Gonzalez, Shariela Jiminez, and Marien Pereza collected hits for the fifth-seeded Warriors, who finish the season with an 8-10 mark. They earned a berth in the semis opposite the Warriors by grabbing a 16-4 mercy-rule win over fourth-seeded Block Island in a ‘play-in’ game on Thursday afternoon.
Davies and Central, meanwhile, are expected to begin their best-of-three title series on Monday at 7 p.m. at Rhode Island College. The second game is set for Tuesday at 7 p.m. back at RIC, and a day and time have yet to be set if a third and deciding game is needed.