NORTH SMITHFIELD – After an exhausting and draining eight-inning affair, the victors from North Smithfield High still possessed enough strength to lift the game’s heroine into the air.
Upon placing Jessica Tremblay on the ground, the Northmen remained on the mound to listen to the postgame thoughts of head coach Tom Bourgeois and his assistant, Paul Mercier.
“I told them that this is the most excited that I’ve been all season,” stated a relieved Bourgeois.
Considering the circumstances, Bourgeois was more than justified in feeling the way he did. His top-seeded Northmen overcame a whale of a pitching performance by Exeter/West Greenwich’s Andrea Artesani to literally and figuratively walk off Pat Dowling Memorial Field with a 2-1 verdict in the opening round of the Division II winners’ bracket playoffs.
It was Tremblay who saved the day as the junior shortstop laced a two-out single to in the eighth inning to score sophomore Julia Cloutier from second base.
Tremblay’s clutch base knock landed in front of left fielder Vanessa Pucino, who after momentarily bobbling the ball delivered an on-target throw to Scarlet Knights’ catcher Jenna Bridges. Sliding feet first, Cloutier just got ahead of the tag bid by Bridges, who had to quickly shift her mitt upon receiving the throw up near her head.
“Basically all I was thinking was to just hit it in the air,” remarked Tremblay, who grounded out in her previous two at-bats after leading off the bottom of the first with a single.
The 17-1 Northmen now head to Rhode Island College for a semifinal-round contest against No. 3 East Greenwich. That contest will take place Wednesday at 5 p.m. Seeded fifth, Exeter/West Greenwich will venture to Pawtucket’s Hank Soar Complex to face St. Raphael in a losers’ bracket tilt that’s also on tap for Wednesday.
Had Tremblay not delivered the game-winning knock, the story would have been Artesani. The Scarlet Knights junior notched 16 strikeouts while scattering four hits. She allowed just one earned run as the Northmen’s first run was the result of an error in the fourth.
“Basically, every first pitch (Artesani) threw was a strike,” said Tremblay. “She didn’t have too much movement, so we were sitting back and waiting for her fastball.”
“She might be the fastest pitcher we’ve seen in Division II,” noted Bourgeois, who tried to combat Artesani’s stingy ways by having the North Smithfield hitters bunt for base hits.
Though she didn’t match Artesani in the strikeout department, North Smithfield junior ace Karissa Carlton was just as effective. After allowing one run on three hits in the first inning, Carlton went on to toss seven no-hit innings as part of a one-walk, 10-strikeout performance. She retired 10 straight Scarlet Knights at one point.
“Karissa pitched really well today,” said Bourgeois matter-of-factly. “She was hitting her spots.”
Exeter/West Greenwich continued to enjoy a 1-0 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth as Artesani struck out the side in the second and third innings. North Smithfield’s Jaime LaFazia worked a one-out walk before stealing second and advancing to third with two down after Jen Brodeur on a deep fly. The throw from Scarlet Knights right fielder Maddy D’Arezzo ended up bouncing past third baseman Stephanie Cote and into North Smithfield’s dugout. The play was called dead with the home-plate umpire awarding the plate to LaFazia.
The white-knuckle affair remained tied heading into the home portion of the seventh. Brodeur led off with a towering shot to straightaway center field that just missed clearing the fence. She cruised into second with a double before advancing to third on a sacrifice fly by Larson.
Allison Depari then reached on a bunt. Brodeur meandered her way down the third-base line before quickly applying the breaks and returning to the base. Bridges fired a throw in that direction but Brodeur proved just a step quicker in getting back.
With two runners in scoring position and one down, the Northmen were presented with a golden opportunity to end matters sooner rather than later. Artesani had other ideas as the standout struck out two straight to push the game into extras.
“We assumed that it was going to be a hard game, but we all came together,” smiled Tremblay.