WOONSOCKET — This has been a nightmarish year for Mount St. Charles Academy, a team most folks predicted would again compete for the Division I-North title and embark on a long run in the state tournament.
There have been the injuries. Two of the Mounties’ top players -- ace pitcher Olivia Hendricks (foot injury) and third baseman Nicole Silva (illness) -- out indefinitely. The four losses they suffered in the last inning. The five straight games they stranded 10 or more runners on base.
All that has helped add up to a difficult season, but on Wednesday afternoon, the Mounties were able to savor their biggest win of the season.
Taylor Messier and Emily Hendricks socked two-out, two-run singles in the bottom of the fifth inning to help the Mounties post a come-from-behind 4-3 victory over Lincoln High that knocked the Lions from the unbeaten ranks.
The Lions, who came into the game atop the Division I-North standings with a 13-0 mark, broke out to a 3-0 lead in their opening swings, but were unable to add to their lead.
Not only did the Mounties (8-7) play excellent defense to back up freshman pitcher Kristen Rodrigues, but four baserunning errors by the Lions over the next five innings snuffed what could have some more scoring opportunities.
“When you make mistakes in Division I softball, teams will take advantage of them,” noted Lincoln coach Jon Bruckner. “Today, we made mistakes and (Mount) took advantage. They played a very good game.”
While Bruckner was disappointed with the loss, MSC coach Cliff Matthews was obviously thrilled with the win, which was the Mounties’ third in a row and fifth in their last seven games, and especially happy with the pitching of Rodrigues and his team’s defense.
“The team really got behind Kristen Rodrigues today,” said Matthews. “We knew we had to play really strong defense, and Kristen put the ball over the plate and trusted her defense. I think that was the key.”
Rodrigues got off to a rocky start in the first inning and gave up hits to four of the first six batters she faced, including a two-out, two-run single to Emily Bouthillette and a RBI double by Chelsea Brennan.
Base hits by Barbara Jackson and Lindsay Mayer set the tables with one out, and after Rodrigues got the second out on a flyout, Bouthillette laced a sharp grounder up the middle for her hit and Brennan followed with a long double into the gap in left-center field.
In the fourth, the Lions had a golden opportunity to add to their lead, as they loaded the bases with one out. But Rodrigues got the next batter to line out to second baseman Briana Castro, and when Castro saw the runner on third halfway between third and home, she threw the ball to third to pick her off.
The Lions, meanwhile, were mowing down the Mounties behind the strong pitching of Alyssa McCoart, who limited MSC to two hits over the first four innings before the hosts came alive in the fifth.
The Mounties loaded the bases with no outs on an infield miscue, a walk to Castro, and a bunt single by Erin Rouleau. McCoart came back to strike out the next two batters, but Messier managed to make it a one-run game with a soft line single to center.
After Rouleau went to third and Messier headed to second on the late throw to the plate, Hendricks stepped to the plate and ripped a base hit to center to drive in both runners and give the hosts the lead.
“We got the timely hits,” added Matthews. “We only had one opportunity in this game and we took advantage of it.”
The Lions did their best to tie the score in the sixth. McCoart led off with a hard-hit double in the gap in right-center and was replaced on the basepaths by a courtesy runner. Two pitches later, that runner was thrown out at third when Bouthillette laced a sharp grounder to Hendricks at shortstop.
An infield error then put runners at first and second, but Rodrigues wiggled off the hook by getting the next batter to tap into a 4-3 double play.
“Our bats kind of went silent after the first (inning),” said Bruckner. “For six innings, we got shut out, which is unusual for us, but like anything else, you can take something from this, learn from it, and move forward.”
McCoart ended the afternoon with a five-hitter that saw her strike out seven batters and walk two. Rodrigues, meanwhile, allowed nine hits and no walks and only struck out one (the final batter of the game), but she came up with the statistic that was the most important, the ‘W’.
“I know that Lincoln didn’t look past us, but I’ll tell you what, that’s a team I don’t want to see in the playoffs,” noted Matthews. “That’s a strong, well-coached team that’s solid at every position. But sometimes you get a bounce or two that go your way, and I think they went our way today.”
“It’s a tough loss, but I think there are a lot of teachable moments,” admitted Bruckner. “There are a lot of things we can focus on and do better, and that might motivate us to kind of pick it up a notch right now, so that’s what I’m hoping we take from this.”