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PAWTUCKET â€“ According to head coach Craig Giarrusso, his Tolman High squad more than felt the effects of its first defeat of the season, a 4-3 decision to previously-unbeaten host East Greenwich, on Wednesday afternoon.
Just 24 hours after, the Tigers took on Exeter/West Greenwich in another Division II crossover tilt at Slater Park's Bailey Field, and looked a bit dazed through the first four-plus frames.
In the end, however, senior shortstop Alex Lacoste broke a 4-4 deadlock in the back half of the seventh, roping a single to right-center to plate junior Brittany Bilodeau from second, and handed Tolman a remarkable 5-4 triumph before an audience of perhaps three dozen on Thursday.
Actually, talented sophomore righty Andrea Artesani got two quick outs in that fateful frame, but then walked Bilodeau, who hustled to second on a wild pitch. Lacoste fought off an 0-2 count, then delivered a low liner past diving second baseman Rayna Gagnon to register the game-winning RBI.
â€śI think we were ready at the start; then again, we suffered our first loss to East Greenwich, the defending D-II state champions, and that was really tough,â€ť Lacoste, the heroine, explained afterward. â€śWe weren't into it, but â€“ inning by inning â€“ I think we started getting better.
â€śWhen I was at the plate, I just knew I had to do something to get her in,â€ť she added with a mammoth grin. â€śI got an outside fastball and just went with it. I knew right away that Britt would score. I just gave a sigh of relief when I reached first. It felt good; we needed to win this one after what happened (Wednesday).â€ť
Stated Giarrusso, whose squad improved to 9-1 and remains cemented in first place in II-East: â€śWe played a great game against EG, but allowed two (runs) in the eighth when Lauren Duvall hit a two-run double off the fence in left.
â€śIn this one, we were very flat for four-and-a-half innings, and I was extremely worried,â€ť he continued. â€śWe weren't swinging the bats the way we usually do, but â€“ if there's one thing I can say about our kids â€“ they don't quit. It doesn't matter how many runs they're down or what inning it is, they keep battling.â€ť
As for Lacoste's tilt-clinching single, Giarrusso offered, â€śAlex is a four-year starter, and she just doesn't get rattled. She shows confidence in the field and at the plate. That was a huge hit, especially with two outs and the game on the line. In fact, she was down, 0-2, on the count.
â€śI'm not surprised with Alex, or anyone on the entire team, for that matter. I think they looked at it like a challenge, and this was definitely a challenge.â€ť
The skipper was referring to Artesani, who didn't allow a hit through the first four innings, and â€“ in fact â€“ had yielded only two baserunners, one on an error and the other via walk.
All told, she scattered only four hits and three walks while fanning a half-dozen in her complete-game outing, but also recorded three wild offerings.
In addition, it seemed as if the Scarlet Knights, ahead 2-0, would run away with the victory in the top of the fifth.
Junior No. 9 hitter Rebecca Defeo led off with a hit to right and took second when Artesani was hit by a pitch. Junior righthander Olivia Larson then walked Alexis Jendzejec to load the bags.
Senior Shannon Laiho then drilled a shot to center, one snagged by junior Ashley Clark, and Defeo tried to score on the tag-up. Clark rifled a pinpoint throw to freshman backstop Megan Klemanchuck, who applied the tag for the second out.
Senior Brianna Hopkins then produced a premier at-bat, fouling off several Larson deliveries, but struck out swinging.
â€śGetting that double-play ball to center, then the strikeout, that seemed to lift the kids,â€ť Giarrusso noted.
He wasn't kidding. In the bottom of the fifth, Megan Klemanchuck walked and moved to second on a wild pitch. Freshman Leiandra Wilson poked the first hit off of Artesani, a soft single to left, to send Klemanchuck to third, and the latter raced home on a passed ball. Freshman Cristen Chiaverini then reached on what officially became a bunt single to plate Wilson with the game-tying run.
(On the play, Artesani fielded the ball cleanly, but had no one to throw to at first. Call it a mental miscue).
When junior Jordyn Klemanchuck grounded to short, Jendzejec threw wildly to second, and â€“ as the ball rolled into right field â€“ Chiaverini scored and the elder Klemanchuck flew to third. She eventually scored on Artesani's second wild delivery of the inning, giving Tolman a 4-2 cushion.
That was short-lived.
Larson got two quick outs to open the sixth, but sophomore Becky Andrade reached on a fielder's choice and took second on Gagnon's single up the middle. Defeo immediately poked a grounder at Larson, and she threw to first baseman Chiaverini, who dropped it. That miscue allowed Andrade to score, and Artesani punched a ground single to center to plate Gagnon and knot it at 4-4.
Artesani retired the Tigers in order in the sixth, and Larson did the same in the top of the seventh to set up the dramatic finish.
â€śThe problem I'm finding is we have one bad inning every game we play,â€ť confessed EWG coach Steve Hoard, whose team fell to 5-5. â€śThat's cost us four games now. Against West Warwick, we lost by a run in the seventh inning, and â€“ against Pilgrim â€“ it was the same thing. We had one bad inning, and they came back to beat us, again in the seventh.
â€śWe played St. Raphael (on Wednesday), and we allowed a couple of runs in the top of the seventh, then couldn't score in the bottom half,â€ť he added. â€śI've been preaching to the girls, 'You're a good team, but, if you want to be great, you have to get over the hump. You have to play more consistently.' When we begin to coast and our minds aren't in it, that's when we get into trouble.â€ť
Artesani finished 2-for-3 with an RBI and run scored, while Hopkins went 1-for-4 with an RBI and run. Sophomore Erica Jewitt provided the only other two-hit outing for EWG.
Lacoste closed at 2-for-4 (after striking out in her initial two at-bats), and Chiaverini 1-for-3 with an RBI and run.
As for Larson, she didn't pitch poorly by any means. In her seven innings, she yielded eight hits, two earned runs and two walks while whiffing three.
â€śThis is a big win for our girls,â€ť Giarrusso stated. â€śWe've got six games left, and we need to carry this momentum forward.â€ť