WOONSOCKET — Cumberland High coach Marty Crowley believes he has a strong enough team to contend for a state title come mid-June.
But in his eyes, and perhaps most in Division I, the squad that everyone in the league should be concerned about is last year’s state runner-up Mount St. Charles Academy.
“Absolutely,” he said. “They went to the finals last year. They (basically) got everybody back. They should be the favorites to win the whole thing. They’re good.”
Crowley got to witness first-hand just how mighty the Mounties can be during Wednesday’s season opener for both squads. On a windy afternoon at its home complex, Mount belted out 11 hits and was just as lethal defensively, all of which added up to an impressive 5-1 victory.
Junior Olivia Hendricks hurled a four-hitter on the mound and also had two hits and three RBI and twin sister Emily Hendricks had a pair of doubles and two RBI to spur their teammates.
MSC coach Cliff Matthews was somewhat surprised about the outcome, considering his team’s lack of practice time outdoors.
“This is the first time we have been on our field all year,” Matthews said. “I was afraid we’d be a little bit rusty. Defensively I think we played as well as we could. We hit the ball very well, top to bottom. We put a lot of pressure on them…I think top to bottom we had hits all over the place. That was the difference. It took a lot of pressure off our defense.”
The Clippers, who matched the Mounties last season with the best record in the entire league at 14-4 in Div. I-North, got off to a good start in the first inning and scored their lone run. Sophomore Bridget Connors led off with a single and senior Krissy Peffer followed with a bunt single. After senior pitcher Beth Paul grounded out to right field to advance her teammates, senior Chrissy Speroni drove in Connors with her groundout to right.
That would be the extent of the offense for the Clippers as Hendricks stymied her rival’s bats to just two more hits and finished with four 1-2-3 innings, thanks in part to her defense.
“What can I say? They hit the ball and we didn’t,” Crowley said. “We hit it right at people. I think a lot of them were anxious. They were uncharacteristically anxious. We are going to have to make some adjustments and get ready for the next game.”
The Mounties tied the game at 1 in the bottom of the first. Emily Hendricks bashed a one-out double and, after Olivia Hendricks walked, senior Nicole Silva hit an RBI single to even the score.
Mount took the lead for good in the second with Emily Hendricks highlighting the frame with a two-run double. The Mounties finished with three hits in the inning and five in the first two against the usually-tough arm of Paul.
“She got off to a rough start, but she settled down nicely,” Crowley said. “Mount’s a dangerous team and they bring a lot to the table. They put pressure on you defensively. You got to tip your hat to them. They were the better team today.”
The Mounties added some insurance runs in the fourth with Olivia Hendricks hitting a two-run double. She also drove in the final run of the contest, bringing home junior Taylor Messier (double) in the bottom of the sixth.
With the field unplayable for the first few weeks of the season, practice has primarily been indoors and hitting has taken precedent for Matthew’s crew.
“It’s about the only thing you can do when you are playing indoors,” he said. “We have been doing a lot of drills, a lot of short toss. Even though a lot of the girls think it’s boring, those mechanics really pay dividends when they get back onto the field.”
Cumberland returns to the field on Monday when it travels to Division I newcomer Smithfield. The Mounties have a tougher battle on hand this Friday when they take their bus to Lincoln, a team that finished third last spring in the league at 13-5.
“I always look forward to the season no matter what happens,” Matthews said. “It’s a great group of girls. Two years ago we were the rookie phenoms with so many freshmen and sophomores starting. Now our sophomores are seniors. Their expectations are high, my expectations are high. In the North, every game is going to be a battle. I think it’s the strongest division. I’m glad we started off with a win.”