LINCOLN — The Division I playoffs don’t begin for another eight days, but Wednesday night’s marquee clash between longtime rivals Lincoln and Cumberland sure had the feel of the postseason in the air.
And like the two teams’ showdowns of years past, pitching and defense played key roles in their regular-season meeting before a big gathering at Saylesville Elementary School’s Sullivan Field.
Both teams provided plenty of solid pitching behind their aces, Lincoln’s Lindsay Mayer and Cumberland’s Juliet Nelson. But when it came down to defense, it was three miscues by the Clippers that helped paved the way for four unearned runs and a 5-1 victory for the undefeated Lions.
The triumph raised the defending champion Lions’ record to 15-0 and extended their win streak dating back to last year’s season opener to 37 games. It also put them one victory away from their second straight perfect regular season, which they will try to nail down on Friday at 4 p.m. back at Saylesville against third-place Coventry (11-3).
“I didn’t know what we were going to get tonight,” confessed Lincoln coach Dick Ryan. “I know (Cumberland) has a really good ballclub, and I knew it was going to be a tough game. But it seems like every time we have a tough game, we play well. We had a good game last week against North Kingstown, and we played well again tonight.”
Mayer and Emily Bouthillette, Lincoln’s two seniors who were honored during ‘Senior Night’ festivities before the game, and sophomore Adriana Toro each collected multiple hits and a run batted in, and it was Bouthillette’s ringing two-out RBI single to right in the bottom of the third inning that broke a 1-1 tie.
Mayer, meanwhile, ended up with a six-hitter for the Lions to pick up her 12th victory of the season. Not only did she strike out 10 batters and walk three, but she also received a nice helping hand from her defense, which played errorless ball.
“Lindsay pitched a good game and we played well defensively,” said Ryan. “As long as we play well defensively and get some timely hits along the way, I think we’ll be fine.”
Nelson, meanwhile, didn’t have numbers as good as Mayer’s, but she still did a fine job, as she whiffed four batters and scattered nine hits and one walk. But the three infield miscues that were committed behind her came back to haunt her and help produce the unearned runs.
“You can’t give runs,” said Cumberland coach Marty Crowley. “It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, and especially against a team like Lincoln. Obviously, if you give them runs, they’re going to make you pay, and they did.”
The Lions drew first blood in the second when Bouthillette led off with a sharp single to right and took second when Stacey Mayer hit what appeared to be a double-play grounder to the left side of the infield, but instead, resulted in an error.
The hosts then resorted to some ‘smallball’ to bring in the first run. Alyssa Schermerhorn advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt, and Lauren Hervieux brought in Bouthillette with a well-placed squeeze bunt.
The Clippers then responded in the third by collecting four of their hits. Bridget Connors legged out a one-out infield hit, and an out later, Nelson, Caylin Legare, and Tayla Noke came through with consecutive singles, with Noke’s base hit, a soft liner over the head of first baseman McKenzie Cavanaugh, tying the score.
But just when it looked like the Clippers had the Lions on the ropes, Lions catcher Stacey Mayer ended the threat with a nice sliding catch on a foul pop near the backstop off the bat of Sydnee Shabomardenly.
Lincoln then took the lead on Bouthillette’s run-scoring hit that knocked in Adriana Toro, and that was the only earned run the Lions scored off Nelson. Toro had reached base on a one-out bunt hit and went to third on a long single to right-center by Lindsay Mayer, who was eventually caught in a rundown between first and second and tagged out.
After Bouthillette’s hit, Stacey Mayer joined the hit parade with a sharp single to center. The next batter, Schermerhorn, then hit a fly ball along the third-base line that appeared to be the third out, but three Clippers converged on the ball, and not only was it dropped, but it also rolled into the Lions’ dugout, and that allowed Bouthillette to score.
The Lions’ other two runs came in the fourth. An infield error on a routine grounder by Canavaugh and a bunt single by Meredith Walsh was soon followed by a sacrifice bunt from Casie Beauchemin, a run-scoring groundout by Toro, and a RBI single to center by Lindsay Mayer.
Speaking of Mayer, she finished the game strong, mowing down 10 of the final 11 batters she faced and striking out six of them, including the side in the final frame.
The Clippers, meanwhile, fell to 11-4 with their third defeat in their last five games. They now sit in fourth place and will face Cranston West (8-6) in their regular-season finale on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at the Brayton Avenue complex in Cranston.
“This was just one game,” said Crowley. “As much as the Cumberland-Lincoln rivalry is there, and it’s there, we have to move on to Saturday. All we can do now is worry about Cranston West and still try to play for a high seed.”
“Tip your hat off to them,” Ryan said of Cumberland. “That’s a good ballclub we played. And I think we’ll see Cumberland again in the playoffs, probably in the finals. I think we’re the two best teams in the state. I’ve seen them play enough to know that they have that good a team.”