PROVIDENCE --- The Division I state title will come down to one game.
Cumberland High scored early and often and senior ace pitcher Bethany Paul continued her postseason brilliance on the mound in Monday’s championship round against Mount St. Charles Academy at Rhode Island College.
And the final result was a surprisingly-lopsided 15-3 conquest by the fourth-seeded Clippers that not only dealt the ninth-seeded Mounties their first loss of the double-elimination tournament, but set up tonight’s 8 p.m. winner-take-all clash back at RIC.
The 12-run rout was the most lopsided score in the Division I championship round in recent memory, and it was a score that surprised Cumberland coach Marty Crowley as he took one last look at the scoreboard before addressing the media.
“Everything in the playoffs has been a one- or a two-run game,” he reported. “You’d never expect this, especially in this type of setting, but now it’s back to work tomorrow. Mount’s going to come back with fire in their bellies and we just have to be ready to answer their challenge.”
The Clippers (18-5) swung their bats with authority from start to finish and racked up an astounding 20 hits, an attack that was sparked by leadoff batter Bridget Connors, who had the finest game of her high school career by going 6-for-6 with a pair of doubles, three runs scored, and three runs batted in.
“We hit the ball tonight,” added Crowley. “That’s what it boils down to. We came out flying right from the start and we scored a run every inning. Top to bottom, we just hit, and it was just one of those nights where we just saw the ball.”
No. 9 batter Kayleigh Martins also added gasoline to the fire by going 4-for-4 with a double, a two-run triple in the seventh, and three runs scored. Kelsey Cahill went 3-for-4 with three runs scored, while Kaitlyn Pluta, Krissy Peffer, and Paul each tacked on multiple hits, and Paul also had three RBIs.
All that offense was more than enough support for Paul, as she picked up the win with six solid innings that saw her scatter seven hits, struck out eight, and walked one. Freshman Juliet Nelson mopped up in the seventh.
The Mounties, who fell to 13-10 after winning their first four playoff games, were not only victimized by the Clippers’ superior hitting and Paul’s pitching, but they also hurt themselves defensively by committing six errors that led to a handful of unearned runs.
“You don’t win Division I softball games unless you play clean defense,” said Mount coach Cliff Matthews, “We were not prepared to play defense tonight. This wasn’t the same team that’s been playing in this tournament. It was very disappointing.
“Yes, Cumberland hit the ball, but with all the errors we made, we can’t give any team that many extra chances.”
The Clippers wasted little time breaking on the board in their opening swings. Connors laced the contest’s first pitch deep into the gap in left-center field for a double, and after she raced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Peffer, she scored on a double by Paul that she lined into the left-field corner.
The Mounties nearly tied the contest in their half of the frame, when with two outs, Briana Castro reached on an infield error and Aria DiMeo (who was 3-for-4) followed with a double to right-center. But Paul bounced back to get the dangerous Nicole Silva to tap out to first to end the inning.
In the second, the Clippers struck again, thanks to back-to-back miscues on a base hit to right by Martins. After Cahill drew a walk with one gone, Martins followed with her line single to right that was botched for the first miscue and allowed Cahill to steam into third.
With the throw from the outfield coming back into the infield and Cahill just rounding third, Crowley rolled the dice and waved Cahill home. The gamble paid off when the relay throw home bounced past catcher Alyssa Lanzi and went to the backstop.
The Clippers’ third-inning run was also an unearned score, as Becky Geddes reached second on a two-out infield error and Samantha Bertheman drove her home by dropping a line single into right.
In the fourth, the Clippers had runners and first and second with one out for Paul, who ripped a deep drive to left that got caught in the breeze and sailed away from left fielder Carissa Gould for a long single. That scored Connors, who reached base with her third hit of the night.
After a sacrifice bunt by Christina Speroni, Peffer scored Cumberland’s fifth run on a wild pitch by MSC pitcher Olivia Hendricks.
The Clippers continued to add to their lead in the fifth, this time off freshman reliever Kristen Rodrigues, by collecting four straight hits with one gone and adding runs on a sacrifice fly to center by Paul and the Mounties’ fourth error of the game.
Connors drove in Cahill with the first run of the inning with a hard-hit double to right, and Peffer ripped an RBI single up the middle to plate Martins.
MSC avoided the shutout in the fifth -- and ended Paul’s 21-inning scoreless streak in the playoffs -- on a two-out single to left by DiMeo that knocked in Nicole Grinsell, who led off by reaching base on an throwing error, and Emily Hendricks, who beat out a bunt hit.
After the Clippers got those runs back in the sixth on run-scoring singles by Connors and Peffer, the Mounties scored their third run in the bottom of the frame on a RBI single by Taylor Messier, who also finished with two hits.
But the Clippers were far from done, and they extended their lead into double digits by scoring their final four runs in the seventh.
“If you told me at the start of the game that we would have scored three runs, I probably would have thought this was going to be a 3-2 or 4-3 game,” said Matthews. “But this was brutal.”
Cumberland 111 242 4--15-20-2
Mount St. Charles 000 021 0--3-9-6
Bethany Paul, Juliet Nelson (7) and Krissy Peffer; Olivia Hendricks, Kristen Rodrigues (5) and Alyssa Lanzi. 2B -- Bridget Connors 2 (C), Bethany Paul (C), Aria DiMeo (MSC), Kayleigh Martins (C). 3B -- Kayleigh Martins (C).