WARWICK – The Division I winners’ bracket contest that took place under sunny yet windy conditions at Winslow Field was your classic Cinderella matchup.
Occupying one dugout was Mount St. Charles, a No. 12 seed responsible for eliminating fourth-seeded Cumberland from the postseason equation. Certainly what the Mounties accomplished qualifies as a shocker, but they weren’t the only underdog to send a heavy favorite packing.
MSC’s opponent on Sunday was Toll Gate, a squad that also brushed aside the idea that a high seed means absolutely nothing when the time comes to step between the white lines. The 12th seeded Titans proved to be one run better in its exercise against No. 5 La Salle and thus received the opportunity to serve as the home team.
As for the game between two teams that succeeded in shaking up the brackets, it featured the right blend of competitiveness and drama, two characteristics not typically seen when two lower seeds lock horns. The Mounties had numerous chances in the latter innings to generate runs, but alas, the inability to come up with a timely base knock came back to haunt head coach Cliff Matthews’ ballclub in a 3-0 setback to the Titans.
The loss sends Mount to the losers’ bracket with a matchup at No. 9 Bay View on tap for Monday afternoon. Toll Gate’s reward is a trip to Rhode Island College for a Tuesday matchup against top overall seed Lincoln.
“It’s a tough road to hoe, but we’ve been here before,” was Matthews’ ode to keeping a stiff upper lip.
Had the Mounties cashed in on the multiple scoring chances that were laid at their feet, they would be the ones enjoying a day off before gearing up for the challenge of facing the defending champion Lions. Instead, all Matthews could do was shake his head at the missed opportunities, the most glaring one transpiring in the seventh inning.
Three walks issued by two Toll Gate pitchers – Arizona Hunt-Kirkland started the frame before getting relieved by Courtney Sheridan – resulted in MSC enjoying a bases loaded bonanza with one down.
A foulout by junior Briana Castro to Toll Gate catcher Courtney Conklin – the backstop appeared to momentarily lose sight of the ball before catching it inches from the ground – resulted in the second out and leaving it up to Taylor Dill to come through. The sophomore roped a shot to second base that the Titans’ Ingrid Freeman bobbled before throwing a strike to first for the final out.
Stranding three runners came on the heels of the Mounties wasting a pair of second-and-third opportunities, one coming in the fourth inning with the second taking place in the sixth. The fifth inning saw Mount fail to convert with runners on the corners.
Matthews mentioned that the adjustment from facing a hard-throwing pitcher in Cumberland’s Juliet Nelson to three Toll Gate pitchers that relied mainly on location perhaps played a part in his club’s offensive doldrums.
“We were kind of off-balanced a little bit and (Toll Gate mentor Shana O’Connor) was smart with her substitutions,” noted Matthews.
While the visitors struggled to generate any sort of traction with the bats, the Titans relied on the big stick of Jamie Hopgood. The sophomore drove in all three of her team’s runs, two via a towering two-run home run that sailed over the right-field fence in the third inning.
By Matthews’ estimation, Hopgood’s shot was the only mistake that his starting pitcher, Kylie Finnerty, made on the day. Finnerty finished with a season-high six strikeouts while scattering five hits.
“My kid was throwing very well,” said Matthews about Finnerty. “(The home run by Hopgood) was a change-up that was way outside the strike zone and she hit it anyway.”
Courtney Marsh started the game on the hill for Toll Gate before Hunt-Kirkland was summoned after the first two MSC batters reached in the fourth inning. Sheridan nailed down the game’s final two outs after Hunt-Kirkland walked back-to-back Mounties to begin the seventh.
Theresa Pereira finished with a double for MSC and a sac bunt that helped advance two runners into scoring position in the fourth inning. Left fielder Sarah Kennedy helped prevent the Titans from adding to their run total in the first inning when she threw out Conklin at the plate for the frame’s initial out.