PAWTUCKET — Division II-East champions. A division-leading 13 runs per game. One of three teams to lead the league with 14 regular-season victories.
A stunning first-round exit in the Division II playoffs.
These are the four things this season’s Tolman High team will be remembered for doing. And while the first three are incredible accomplishments, the fourth was a cruel, disappointing way to end a sensational spring — one that had the promise of playing for a state title next week at Rhode Island College.
The second-seeded Tigers battled back from a 6-0 deficit after 3½ innings to force extra innings with 15th-seeded North Providence High on Friday in their single-elimination opener at Slater Park.
But the upset-minded Cougars scratched out three runs in the top of the eighth inning and staved off a Tolman comeback in the home half of the frame to eke out a 9-7 victory and a surprising spot in the double-elimination format of the state tournament.
The Cougars (9-8), who squeaked into the playoffs by capturing five of their final seven games (four by one run), collected a dozen hits that helped propel them to victory. They also took advantage of four errors and a couple of mental blunders by the Tigers, who also stranded 11 runners on base.
“When you come into the playoffs, you throw away the records because they don’t mean anything at this point of the season,” said Tolman coach Craig Giarrusso. “If you don’t show up and play your ‘A’ game, then you have huge disappointments like we had today.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is a very big disappointment for having such a tremendous season. We have a very good regular season, but to come out and play as bad as we did for so many innings, it’s just very, very disappointing.”
The Cougars took a stranglehold of the contest by grabbing a 5-0 lead in the top of the second, no thanks to a pair of infield miscues, back-to-back bases-loaded walks by Tolman pitcher Alex Lacoste, and a two-run bloop single to right by Hannah Dionne.
The visitors then made it a six-run affair in the fourth when Kelsey Vargas led off with a long triple to left and sped home on a safety squeeze bunt by Alisha Iafrate, but the Tigers slowly began to get back into the game.
In the bottom of the inning, they scored twice on a run-scoring base hit to left by Jordyn Klemanchuck and back-to-back infielder errors with two gone that allowed Klemanchuck to cross the plate.
In the fifth, Tolman rallied for three runs on an RBI triple belted deep into the gap in left-center by Ashley Hessler, a run-scoring single to center by Brittany Bilodeau, and a fielder’s choice grounder by Katherine Therriault.
And in the sixth, the Tigers tied the contest. Ashley Clark led off with a wind-blown double to left, and after she went to third on a sacrifice bunt by Crystal Ritcey, Olivia Larson (who smacked two long doubles to left in her previous two at-bats) drove in Clark with a single down the left-field line.
After both sides went down quietly in the seventh, the international tiebreaker rule came into effect in the eighth inning, which called for each team to begin its portion of the inning with a runner on second (the last out of the previous inning) and no outs.
The Cougars sent Madison Jamack to second and immediately tried to move her to third on a bunt by Caramia Ferrario. But her bunt was misplayed for an error, putting runners at the corners.
Ferrario then moved into scoring position by stealing second without a throw, and Katherine DeCorte proceeded to knock in both runners with a line single to center.
A few pitches later, DeCorte was caught stealing, but winning pitcher Lindsey Cabral and Vargas kept the inning alive with base hits, and Cabral ended up hustling home to score on an error off a missed third strike to Iafrate.
Down, but not out, Tolman did its best to answer back in its half of the frame. Therriault began the inning at second, and when Lacoste worked a walk and Clark laced a sharp single to center to load the bases, it looked like the Tigers were in business.
The next batter, Veronica LeJeune, then smashed a line drive to left that was caught by Jamack. Therriault tagged up and scored with ease, but Lacoste, who was halfway between second and third, was picked off second by a strong throw from Jamack for the second out.
The Tigers managed to reload the bases when Ritcey singled and Larson drew a four-pitch walk. But Hessler ripped a bullet right to Dionne at third base for the final out and the end of Tolman’s season.
“We battled,” noted Giarrusso. “We came back down six (runs), and the kids showed a lot of heart and character. I was pleased to see that, but then come that international tiebreaker, we made some big mistakes both offensively and defensively that eventually cost us the game.”
North Providence 050 100 03--9-12-4
Tolman 000 231 01--7-11-4
Lindsey Cabral and Alisha Iafrate. Alexandra Lacoste and Veronica LeJeune. 2B -- Olivia Larson 2 (T), Caramia Ferrario (NP). 3B -- Kelsey Vargas (NP), Ashley Hessler (T), Ashley Clark (T).