PAWTUCKET — It seems like a lifetime ago, but it was only four seasons ago when St. Raphael Academy was competing for the Division I championship and Tolman High was joining the fastpitch ranks and looking to build a successful Division III program.
Fast forward to 2011. The Tigers are now one of the Division II’s top teams. After going 50-3 and winning the 2008 state championship in their three years as a Division III squad, the Tigers made a smooth transition to Division II last season by going 13-7.
As for the Saints? They are spending their first season in Division II and trying to rebuild their once-dominant program after going 1-33 over the past two Division I seasons.
The two Pawtucket rivals collided at Slater Park’s Bailey Field on Tuesday afternoon in a Division II-East game that was their first-ever fastpitch meeting – and the final result was fairly predictable.
Sophomore pitcher Olivia Larson crafted a three-hitter that saw her strike out 10 batters, and two of her classmates, Jordyn Klemanchuck and Ashley Clark, fueled a 12-hit attack that helped the Tigers roll to a 15-3 mercy-rule victory.
Klemanchuck and Clark each collected three hits, with Klemanchuck also driving in five runs and scoring three times, to help the young Tigers (nine sophomores and four juniors on their 16-player roster) nail down their third win in as many games and remain atop the division standings with Tiverton High.
“We’ve been hitting the ball very, very well,” said Tolman coach Craig Giarrusso, whose crew has collected 36 hits in their three wins. “I couldn’t be happier with the way we’re swinging the bat. We’re taking good swings at good pitches and attacking every pitch we can get, and right now, the results are in our favor.”
While Giarrusso was happy with the way his club swung the bat, he was also thrilled with the way Larson pitched, especially since control problems didn’t allow her to make it out of the first inning of the Tigers’ last game, a come-from-behind 7-5 victory over Classical High last Friday.
Against the Saints, Larson walked four batters, including three in a rocky second inning, but she also finished the game strong, striking out seven of the final 11 batters she faced and allowing just four batted balls to reach the outfield in her five innings of work.
“Based on (the Classical game), I’m very happy with the way she came out and pitched,” said Giarrusso. “She did a great job today. Her control was a lot better than it was against Classical. All I ask Olivia to do is go out there and pitch the way she pitched today, and if she does that, I think we’re going to be all right.”
The loss, meanwhile, was the third for the winless Saints, who under first-year coach Ron LaBree, also have a young 15-player roster that contains six sophomores, three freshmen, and three first-year upperclassmen.
“We’re a young team, a little bit inexperienced,” added LaBree. “Most of my starters are sophomores and my pitcher is a freshman. We have some work to do, but they’re a good group of girls that’s working really hard and getting better. It will come together. I have confidence in them; it will come together.”
“They’re not a bad team,” Giarrusso said of the Saints. “They came down from Division I where they were overmatched, but I think they’re going to be a competitive team in II.”
The Tigers did all the scoring they needed to do in the home half of the first inning when they scored four times off SRA pitcher Kelsy Lynch.
They quickly loaded the bases on walks to Alex Lacoste and Victoria LeJeune and a base hit to right by Klemanchuck, and after Lacoste scored on a wild pitch and Ashley Hessler drove in a run with a fielder’s choice grounder, Katie Therriault socked a two-run single to center.
The Saints looked to answer back in the top of the second and take advantage of Larson’s three walks, but all they could score was one run on a bases-loaded walk to Kaylin Profit that drove in Lauren Sequin.
They then made it a one-run game in the third on a wild pitch that allowed Lynch to score and an infield error that brought in Danielle Peloquin, but the Tigers erupted for six runs in their half of the inning and went around their lineup in doing so.
Hessler, who went 7-for-7 in the Tigers’ first two games, led off with her second homer of the year, an opposite-field, inside-the-parker that hugged the right-field line and rolled into the corner.
One out later, back-to-back run-scoring doubles to left by Brittany Bilodeau and Ashley Clark made it a 7-3 game. Klemanchuck later knocked in two runs with a sharp two-out single to left, and LeJeune also drove in a run with a base hit to right.
Klemanchuck capped her fine afternoon at the plate in the fourth by highlighting a five-run outburst with a long bases-clearing triple into the gap in left-center.
Lacoste, Hessler, Therriault, Bilodeau, and Clark each finished the game with a pair of runs scored, while Lynch collected two of the Saints’ three hits.
St. Raphael 012 00—3-3-3
Tolman 406 5x—15-12-2
Kelsy Lynch and Andrea Asermely; Olivia Larson and Crystal Ritcey. 2B – Brittany Bilodeau (T), Ashley Clark (T). 3B – Jordyn Klemanchuck (T). HR – Ashley Hessler (T).