CUMBERLAND --- Through the years, Lincoln vs. Cumberland in softball has featured nothing but tight pitchers’ duels that you can count the total runs (and sometimes the hits) on one hand.
That wasn’t the case on Thursday afternoon.
Allie Dzialo’s bases-clearing double with two outs in the top of the seventh inning keyed a comeback by the Lions that saw them grab an 8-5 win over their Division I-North rivals in a game that saw both teams combine for 23 hits and a truly dramatic finish.
The Clippers, who had to host the game on the softball field behind their school because Wednesday’s inclement weather left big puddles in Tucker Field’s outfield, actually had to put together a comeback of their own before they claimed their only lead of the game.
Down by a 4-0 score after 4½ innings, they scored a run in the bottom of the fifth before copping a 5-4 lead in the sixth with a four-run rally that was capped by a three-run homer to right by Rebecca Geddes.
“These are the kind of games that when we saw the divisions come out, we knew this was how the Division I-North was going to be,” said Lincoln coach Jon Bruckner, whose club is 3-0. “It was going to be battles and character tests, and that’s what today was.”
The Lions, who pounded out 13 hits and saw their top three hitters in the lineup (Barbara Jackson, Emma Hart, and Lindsay Mayer) go 8-for-8 with two walks, saw that trio set the tables for the thrilling top of the seventh off Cumberland ace pitcher Bethany Paul.
Jackson got plunked in the foot with Paul’s first pitch of the frame, and after Hart legged out a bunt single for her third infield hit of the day, Mayer, who doubled and homered in her first two at-bats, received her second intentional walk of the game to load the bases.
Paul came back to record the next two outs on a soft line drive to second and a forceout at the plate on a grounder to third, but that’s when Dzialo stepped to the plate.
After fouling off a series of two-strike pitches by Paul, Dzialo lofted an outside pitch over the head over right fielder Sam Bertherman and to the fence on one bounce to empty the bases and give the Lions a 7-5 lead.
Dzialo, who dashed to third on the relay throw to the plate, was promptly replaced on the basepaths by courtesy runner Jenna Gamage, who soon scored on a bloop single to left by Emily Bouthillette.
“I told Jon, ‘Would you expect anything else?’” said Cumberland coach Marty Crowley. “It’s always a rock fight between us; nobody’s going to roll over and lay down. You can never say, ‘We have this (game) in the bag.’ That’s why you play until the last out. We fought like heck, they fought like heck, and I tip my hat to them. They beat us.”
The Clippers also scored their four runs in the sixth in almost the same fashion off Lions ace Lindsay McCoart, who was cruising along with a four-hitter until the hosts came out swinging.
Like the Lions, the Clippers’ first three batters, Christina Speroni, Kaitlyn Pluta, and Sam Bertherman, loaded the bases (all on base hits), and like Paul, McCoart came back to get the next two outs, doing so on a strikeout and a forceout at home on a tapper back to the mound.
But after Pluta raced home on a passed ball to make it a two-run game, Geddes, the No. 9 batter, came to the rescue. Like Dzialo, Geddes fouled off her share of two-strike pitches before delivering a long shot to right, but this blast sailed over the head of right fielder Dory Enright and just cleared the short fence in right.
“We had life and we rallied late, and I was proud with our effort,” added Crowley. “We feel 1 through 9 we can hit. Hitting’s contagious; we didn’t hit a lot early on, but once we started hitting, it got contagious.”
“Marty does a super job with his players,” noted Bruckner. “Every one of his kids were ready to play and they never quit. Down 4-0, they were fighting back little by little and they got a couple of key hits themselves. That’s a mark on the quality of Cumberland’s program.”
After the Lions struck in their final swings, the Clippers tried to get something going off Mayer, who pitched the seventh. She gave up a leadoff base hit to right by Paul, but then proceeded to shut the door and earn a save by striking out the next three batters she faced.
Mayer also gave the Lions a 3-0 lead in the third by belting a three-run homer deep into the gap in left-center. After Jackson led off with a bad-hop single and Hart reached on an infield hit, the sophomore standout turned on the first pitch she saw off Paul and was off to the races.
In the fifth, the Lions made it a 4-0 game on a two-out infield single by Chelsea Brennan that plated Jackson, who reached base with her third hit of the game.
But the Clippers finally broke on the board in the home half of the frame, when with two gone, Bridget Connors lined a single to left, stole second, and scored on Krissy Peffer’s third hit of the game, a sharp single to center.
It was sometime around that inning when Bruckner was flirting with the idea of bringing in Mayer, the Lions’ reliable No. 2 pitcher, to relieve McCoart and close the game, but he elected to stick with his ace until the final frame.
“Today’s on me for leaving her out there maybe a little too long, when we have someone like Lindsay who can come in and also give us a lift,” said Bruckner. “She was struggling a little bit, but Alyssa’s just so competitive. She wants it so much that it’s hard to see that look in her eyes and have to make the move and pull her from the game.”
While the victory keeps the Lions atop the division, the Clippers fall to 2-2 as they begin a long six-game stretch in their schedule against crossover opponents.
“Live and learn,” said Crowley. “You just have to move forward. That’s the bottom line. We can’t hang our heads. We’re 2-2 and we start our crossovers now, and we just have to take care of business.”
Lincoln 003 010 4—8-13-0
Cumberland 000 014 0—5-10-0
Alyssa McCoart, Lindsay Mayer (7) and Allie Dzialo; Bethany Paul and Krissy Peffer. 2B – Lindsay Mayer (L), Allie Dzialo (L). 3B – Bridget Connors (C). HR – Lindsay Mayer (L), Rebecca Geddes (C).