PAWTUCKET — Woonsocket High’s answer to grace under fire was one cool customer on Sunday afternoon.
With her team locked in a scoreless duel against Tolman High, senior Kelsey Boucher changed the playoff fate of two teams with one mighty poke. Her solo home run in the sixth inning – one that hit the top of the fence at Slater Park’s Al Bailey Field before bouncing over – proved to be the deciding factor in the seventh-seeded Villa Novans’ 1-0 upset victory against the Tigers, the No. 2 in the Division II double-elimination tournament.
The win vaults Woonsocket into yet another winners’ bracket game, this one set for Tuesday afternoon at Rhode Island College. The opponent will be No. 6 West Warwick, a squad that also made good use of one run Sunday in a 1-0 verdict against third-seeded North Smithfield.
Speaking of the Northmen, they’ll bus to Slater Park Monday afternoon for an elimination game against the Tigers.
To understand just how Boucher seized the moment, lets revert back to her previous at-bat. Stepping to the plate with two on and two down in the third inning, Boucher took what appeared to be a low pitch that the plate umpire called strike two. Tolman starter Olivia Larson then completed the task by getting Boucher to swing and miss for strike three.
“(The strike two call) kind of got in my head and I just swung at the next thing,” recalled Boucher. “My head came up and I just started spinning.”
Fast forward three innings later, where redemption surfaced for Boucher, a three-sport standout for the Novans and someone who knows a thing or two about rising to the occasion in big games. Taking nothing for granted, Boucher raced out of the batter’s box before realizing what she had accomplished as she approached second base.
“I went up there and I swung and I didn’t even know where (the ball) went,” said a clearly relieved Boucher. “I thought it was a ground-rule double, but then I realized the fence is too tall.”
A one-run deficit may not seem like much, especially when you’re referring to a Tolman squad that was one of the top run-producing clubs in the entire division during the regular season. Still, the problems the Tigers had against Villa Novans pitcher Amanda Nunez could be traced back to the first inning, when the home team ran itself out of what had the makings of a potentially big inning.
The first two Tolman batters reached with senior Alex Lacoste rocketing a single to center field followed by a walk drawn by Ashley Hessler. With Ashley Clark at the dish, Nunez uncorked a wild pitch that placed both Tolman runners in scoring position.
Clark ended up grounding to third base for the inning’s first out. Woonsocket then caught a break as Hessler headed toward third base, where Lacoste was standing. With Hessler caught between second and third, Lacoste broke for home, where she was cut down.
“We ran ourselves out of an inning where we may have scored one run, possibly two,” noted Tolman head coach Craig Giarrusso.
Nunez was able to breathe a little easier after the first. Relying on a changeup that flummoxed the Tolman hitters, the Woonsocket freshman finished with a complete-game three-hit shutout that included zero walks, one strikeout and 12 groundball outs.
“After the first inning, (Nunez) got the changeup going and those aggressive swings went away for the most part,” said Woonsocket head coach Dan Belisle. “That’s what you have to do against these good teams.”
Down to its final out, Giarrusso summoned junior Jazmine Almeida to pinch hit for Larson. Down two strikes, Almeida was able to bunt her way on after dropping the ball down the third-base line. The potential tying run for Tolman moved into scoring position as Almeida stole second, but Nunez got freshman Cristino Chiaverini to bounce one back to the mound to end things.