NORTH SMITHFIELD — Eleven days away from league competition did very little to slow down North Smithfield on Friday afternoon.
The Northmen returned to their winning ways by disposing of the Prout School in their Division II crossover meeting at home. Backed by the splendid three-hit pitching of junior ace pitcher Karissa Carlton and a 13-hit attack fueled by seniors Tara Larson and Jaime LaFazia, N.S. raised its first-place Division II-North record to 5-1 by rolling to a 9-1 victory.
The Northmen scored twice in each of the first two innings and used a pair of rallies in the fifth and sixth innings to put away the Crusaders, who have been regarded as one of the top Division II teams over the past few years, averaging 12 wins a year in each of the last six seasons.
The Crusaders, who are 3-4 in Division II-South play and 4-5 overall, actually came into the contest with wins in four of their last five games, but looked anything like a team riding a hit streak, especially in the field, where they committed seven errors that led to four unearned runs.
The Northmen, meanwhile, hit the ball with authority and received a big game from Larson, who went 3-for-4 from the cleanup spot with a three-run homer to deep center in the fifth that gave her team a 7-1 command.
“I’m proud of Tara,” said N.S. coach Tom Bourgeois. “She’s been struggling a little at the plate, but she made solid contact in her first three at-bats and capped it off with that home run. I was happy for her. She’s starting to come around, and overall, we’re just hitting really well.”
LaFazia, meanwhile, was also 3-for-4, as the speedy No. 2 batter reached base four times, legged out a pair of bunt hits, stole two bases, and scored three times. Katherine West and Sam Archambault contributed two hits each, and Jessica Tremblay and Larson also scored twice.
All that offense was more than enough support for Carlton, who feasted on the outer part of the plate and struck out a dozen batters (including the side in order in the second and fifth) in her exceptional effort. She did walk four batters, but she only allowed five batted balls to reach the outfield and finished her afternoon strong, setting down 12 of the final 13 batters she faced.
The Northmen took their 2-0 lead in the first thanks to some help by the Crusaders’ poor defense. Tremblay led off by reaching base when her fly ball in the middle of the diamond was dropped, and after LaFazia beat out her first bunt, Tremblay was able to motor to third when no one was covering the base and the left fielder, Victoria Matrullo, had to race in to field the late throw there.
On the first pitch to the next batter, Megan Brodeur, LaFazia stole second, and when the throw there from catcher Nicole Corneau plunked pitcher Cherie Ueno in the leg and bounced away from her, Tremblay was able to hustle home with a run.
Brodeur then lined out sharply to first baseman Riley Martin, but Larson followed with a line single to left to score LaFazia with ease.
In the second, the Northmen doubled their lead by stringing together three hits with two gone. An opposite-field single to right by Archambault, bloop single to left by Tremblay, and another bunt hit by LaFazia brought home the first run, and an error on the late throw to first to get LaFazia allowed Tremblay to come home with the other run.
After the Crusaders scored their run in the third on a two-out throwing miscue, the game got quiet until Larson made some noise with her home run in the fifth. After LaFazia reached on an error and went to third on a long double by Brodeur that hit the plastic covering on the top of the fence in left-center (and was inches away from leaving the yard), Larson turned on an outside pitch and belted it over the fence.
The Northmen capped their scoring in the sixth on a bad-hop infield single by West that scored LaFazia and a throwing error that brought in Larson.
North Smithfield will continue the crossover portion of its schedule next week with a 4 p.m. game at home on Tuesday against West Warwick and a 4 p.m. showdown in East Greenwich on Thursday against the two-time defending champion Avengers.