LINCOLN â€“ Cumberland exacted revenge against Lincoln in the best way possible: with a victory in the District IV softball championship game.
After dropping a one-run decision to Lincoln last Friday, its lone loss of pool play, Cumberland used a five-run fifth inning to separate itself in Thursdayâ€™s title bout and held on for a 9-7 win at Sullivan Field.
Manager Mike Gillardiâ€™s squad is headed back to the state tournament for a second consecutive year, and unlike last summer, when Cumberland lost both games it played in the double-elimination tourney, he hopes his team can stick around longer this time.
â€śIâ€™m excited to move on because I like this group of girls, and I want to hang out with them a little bit longer because theyâ€™re good kids,â€ť said Gillardi, whose club will oppose the District I champion on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at Riverside Little League.
Thursdayâ€™s outcome wasnâ€™t certain until the final at-bat, when Cumberland reliever Katerina Kent induced a game-ending flyout with the tying run at the plate for Lincoln. A four-run uprising in the top of the sixth pulled Lincoln within a pair of runs, after Cumberlandâ€™s five-spot in the bottom of the fifth gave it a 9-3 cushion.
Both teams entered the winner-take-all tilt with plenty of confidence thanks to successful pool play performances. Lincoln outscored its opponents 26-5 en route to a 4-0 record, while Cumberland posted a 40-8 margin and finished 3-1.
Playing its third consecutive game without ace pitcher Madeline Georgeu, away on a family vacation, Lincoln handed the ball to Megan Chatowsky, who defeated Cumberland in last weekâ€™s 6-5 win.
â€ś[Georgeu]â€™s our No. 1 pitcher, but we were comfortable with Megan,â€ť Lincoln manager Monique Clauson said. â€śShe pitched well. I donâ€™t think it was pitching as much as they hit the ball hard and we had a few miscues.â€ť
Chatowsky yielded 11 hits and three walks in a complete-game effort.
â€śWe hit the ball a little bit better tonight,â€ť Gillardi said. â€śSame pitcher, and she kind of shut us down last time. We didnâ€™t find any holes when we did hit the ball, and tonight a few of them dropped for us. Thatâ€™s softball.â€ť
A 4-3 edge through four frames put Cumberland six outs away from victory, and a win seemed even more likely after its five-run fifth. Ellie Ackerman, Maddi Leite, Emily Durand and Sam Jalbert each supplied run-scoring hits.
â€śWe couldnâ€™t stop the bleeding that last inning. It did us in,â€ť Clauson said. â€śWe showed a lot of heart coming back. It was just too big of a hole to come back from.â€ť
Despite a six-run deficit, Lincoln refused to go quietly in the sixth, which got off to an inauspicious start. Erin Hannanâ€™s attempt to stretch her leadoff double into a triple proved costly, as a finely executed 8-6-5 relay cut her down at third base for the inningâ€™s first out.
â€śI think she was just hyped up,â€ť Clauson said. â€śIt would have been nice to stop her at second, but emotions got the best of her, I think.â€ť
Nonetheless, five of Lincolnâ€™s next six batters reached base, with Martha Peppesâ€™ two-out, two-run double trimming Cumberlandâ€™s lead to 9-7 and knocking out starter Sydney Provencal.
With his team in need of a spark, Gillardi called on Kent.
â€śI was trying to figure out something that might work â€“ go to the mound, see how Sydneyâ€™s doing,â€ť Gillardi said. â€śShe was fine. I was nervous. She wasnâ€™t.â€ť
Kent eased those nerves, retiring the only batter she faced to send Cumberland back to the state tournament.
Gillardi has reason to believe this year will be different.
â€śThis is a good, talented group of young ladies,â€ť Gillardi said. â€śIf they play up to their abilities, then Iâ€™ll put them up against anybody. Thatâ€™s how confident I am in them.â€ť