PROVIDENCE -- The drama stemmed not so much if Lincoln High would claim its first-ever state title in fast-pitch softball.
It instead revolved around whether junior phenom Lindsay Mayer would hurl a no-hitter while it doing so.
She didnât, but that didnât keep the Lions from a wild celebration after sealing a 4-1 victory over never-say-die Coventry High in the R.I. Division I Tournament championship tilt before a crowd of approximately 300 at Rhode Island College on Saturday afternoon.
In the process of capturing the crown, head coach Dick Ryan and his troops closed a truly remarkable and memorable campaign a perfect 22-0, and became the first squad since St. Raphael Academy in 1999 to remain unbeaten.
Immediately after senior third baseman Sarah Albanese made a diving stop of freshman Amanda Ritarossiâs scorched grounder and fired to first for the final out, the Lions sprinted to the pitcherâs circle and embraced Mayer.
They had outstanding reason: With Mayerâs stellar two-hitter (without a base-on-balls) and 10 strikeouts, they finally had a state championship trophy Principal Kevin McNamara could place in the LHS awards case.
While the victors hugged each other both inside and outside Lincolnâs third-base dugout, someone asked senior center fielder Emma Hart why she was crying. Her answer: âBecause Iâm so happy! I just canât believe it. I know I was a feeling a little pressure because of the undefeated season and going for the state title, but Iâm just so proud of this team.
âWe worked so hard for this; I canât believe it finally happened!â
As always, Ryan remained rather matter-of-fact following his teamâs historical run. Itâs not that he didnât feel joy; did he ever. He just couldnât say enough about the Knotty Oakersâ grit.
âThatâs one tough team,â he said. âThey went fighting right down to the very last out. Youâve got to give them a ton of credit. Their kid (junior righty Kerri Deliberis) pitched outstanding. They gave us a tough time, just like they did in our two previous games (a 4-0 regular-season triumph and 5-2 playoff win).
âIn 22 games this year, they gave us our toughest three,â he added. âThatâs not a team I want to face next year âŠ Youâve just gotta tip your hat to them. We didnât hit; I mean, we only had six, but Lindsay pitched great. What did she finish with? Two hits and 10 strikeouts? What more can you say? She was phenomenal.â
Truth be told, Mayer had no idea she had a no-hitter entering the seventh.
âThe thing on the scoreboard said, âFour hits,â so I didnât have a clue,â Mayer grinned afterward. When told she had been looking at the âerrorsâ column, she just laughed, âOh! I honestly didnât know.â
Fact is, with the Lions guarding a 4-0 cushion, junior No. 3 batter Kristin Gallagher opened the frame with a double to deep right, far over freshman Adriana Toroâs head, then moved to third on classmate Nicole Bentâs groundout to the circle.
Mayer whiffed freshman Alyssa Derrick, but fellow frosh Jillian Ward drilled a two-out triple to center, which one-hopped the fence, to plate Gallagher. Ritarossi, however, grounded out to Albanese to end the threat â and the game.
âI had this weird feeling that it was going to be hit to me,â Albanese chuckled. âYou know, sometimes ball players get that feeling, and â the next thing I knew â it was right there. I wanted to make a diving stop all season, and I did it on the final out of the state championship game!
âIâm really, really proud of this team,â she continued. âWe worked so hard to get here. This is the perfect ending to a perfect season. Iâm a senior, so I couldnât ask for anything more. I just had great coaches and players, as well as an amazing community supporting us. I really think we deserve this because we worked so hard.â
Still, the contest had a more-than-inauspicious start for Lincoln. Junior Tatiana Webb led off the first with a grounder to Albanese at third, but she bobbled it. With two down, Bent ripped another grounder at shortstop Emily Bouthillette, whose glove led her down.
Yet, with runners at the corners, Mayer calmly fanned Derrick.
The Lions gained a 1-0 advantage in the back half, when leadoff batter Hart reached on a bunt single, and Toro did the same, but â when catcher Bent threw to first baseman Ritarossi â the latter dropped it. That allowed Hart to scamper to third.
With Lindsay Mayer at the plate, Toro tried to steal second, and Bent threw to shortstop Webb, who promptly applied the tag. In so doing, Hart bolted for home, and Webbâs throw was too late.
âI told our girls, âWeâve gotta get on the board fast,ââ Ryan stated. âI saw the way Lindsay was pitching, and she looked strong. I figured if we got one, that could hold up, and â if we got two â that would be huge. Three was the winner.
âIt was a delayed steal,â he added. âI thought if they donât throw to second, we have second and third with nobody out. If they do throw, Emma scores. That was big.â
As Mayer was busy mowing down 16 straight Oakers, Deliberis did virtually the same. She allowed only Hart to reach on an infield miscue in the third and Lindsay Mayer a single and kid sister Stacy a fielderâs choice in the fourth.
The tiltâs dynamic nevertheless changed in the fifth. It appeared senior Allie Dzialo had stroked a hit to right to start the frame, but freshman Ward fired to first for the out. Albanese followed, punching a single to center, sophomore Casie Beauchemin did the same and Hart walked to fill the bases.
While trying to pick off Albaneseâs courtesy runner, sophomore Kellyn Dyer, at third, though, Bent threw low to the bag. It bounced past Gallagher, and Dyer scooted home.
Toro quickly laid down a bunt, one fielded by Deliberis, and she threw to Bent at the plate to get Beauchemin. The low toss, however, rolled to the backstop, and Hart also scored.
Credit Toro for the Lionsâ lone RBI on the suicide-squeeze play, and Hartâs race for home on the throwing error.
Excepting the first inning and Coventryâs two hits in the seventh, Mayer and Lincoln were flawless.
âAfter the double, Allie came out to me and said, âDonât they realize they need four runs?â and I just laughed,â Lindsay Mayer said. âThat kind of cut the tension.
âIn the first inning, we were pretty jittery,â she continued. âThere was a lot of excitement with us going for the championship, but we pulled together. In the dugout after that inning, we just told each other, âHey, shake off the nerves and focus. Stay energized,â and I think we did.
âI wanted to keep them off-balance; I thought the curve worked best for me, followed by the screwball and changeup. I felt strong out there.â
When asked if her outing was just the way she hoped to complete the unblemished season, she deadpanned, âStriking out the last batter wouldâve been nice, but â trust me â Iâm very happy we won this. I really couldnât have imagined this even a few weeks ago.â
Coventry head coach Chris Daigneault acknowledged the whirler Mayer proved to be the difference.
âSheâs a very good pitcher; sheâs special out there,â he noted. âWe gave it a little fight in the end, I just wish we had done so earlier. We worked really hard at hitting off someone with her speed and control.
âEarlier this week, I brought in some former pitchers of mine, and Elise Fortin, whoâs now playing third base at Fordham (University), was one. I had her pitch outside and high, but (Lindsay) hits her spots over and over again. Her location was amazing.â
In response to the query, âCould you have imagined standing here as a state finalist at the beginning of the season?â Daigneault stated, âI knew we were really young, starting three freshmen and two sophomores, and I think it showed. We had four errors, and we havenât done that all season.
âI thought Kerri pitched very well,â he added. âI guess sheâs a hard-luck loser in this case, but Iâm really proud of our kids.â
If there was a key to this title run, Ryan immediately offered, âThe camaraderie.
âIn the three months Iâve coached this team, we havenât had one disciplinary problem. They genuinely like each other, and theyâre not selfish. Everyone knew, and I made sure they did, that it was about âteam.â They donât know the meaning of âI.â Theyâre wonderful girls, and they got what they deserve.â
Superintendent of Schools Georgia Fortunato, standing near her clubâs dugout, claimed she wouldnât have missed watching her girls battle for the state crown.
âThis is such a tribute to the Lincoln public schools,â she said. âThey had an excellent, undefeated season, and Iâm so proud of all of them. Having Coach Ryan come to Lincoln High School, we were so excited to have someone with his knowledge and ability lead the girls. Heâs been an unbelievable asset to the team and the school.
âThis is a day we certainly will revere for many, many years to come.â
That said, she then yelled, âLincoln: State Champions!â