CUMBERLAND — Juliet Nelson supplied some heat on a chilly 41-degree afternoon.
The Cumberland ace pitcher also brought her ‘A’ game to her team’s home opener on Friday against visiting Toll Gate, as she struck out nine batters and allowed just two batted balls to reach the outfield grass in a masterful one-hit gem and a 2-0 victory that took just 80 minutes to complete.
Sacrifice flies by Bea Caron in the bottom of the second inning and freshman Emily Anderson in the fifth (both coming on two-strike counts) accounted for the hosts’ runs and helped them improve to 2-0 on the young season.
But the story of the day was clearly Nelson, who also issued just one walk and got tougher as the game moved along, retiring 16 of the final 17 batters she faced.
“Nellie’s Nellie,” said Cumberland coach Marty Crowley. “Nellie really works on her game in the offseason and it shows. She had some good pop on the ball today and her offspeed stuff also worked very well. She was in total control and she threw very, very well. She’s a senior and one of our captains, and that’s what you expect out of your seniors.”
Caron’s sacrifice fly came after freshman Madison Leite and Haley Bouley led off the second with base hits and Anderson loaded the bases with a bunt that turned into a fielder’s choice when Toll Gate pitcher Courtney Marsh fielded the ball, but fired it late to third in an attempt to erase Leite.
Caron then lofted her fly to right, and even though right fielder Laura Salisbury gloved it and fired a bullet to the plate, Leite was still able to slide across the plate and not draw a tag from catcher Courtney Conklin.
In the fifth, one-out line singles by Nelson and Leite and a four-pitch walk to Bouley set the stage for Anderson’s sac fly in the gap in left-center field, which scored courtesy runner Sydney Provencal with ease.
The Titans’ best chance to score came in their half of the second when Conklin led off with a line single to right-center (that was just out of the reach of the leap of freshman second baseman Julianne Ross), and with two outs, an infield error put runners on the corners for Courtney Iadevaia.
Nelson fell behind in the count to Iadevaia (throwing three straight balls) and was in danger of loading the bases, but she battled back nicely to strike her out and extinguish the threat.
Despite their second-inning miscue, the Clippers got the job done defensively from start to finish to back up their senior ace, and shortstop Taylor Fay and Ross made some superb plays in the field to highlight Cumberland’s effort.
The Clippers are back at home next Tuesday at 4 p.m. for their next game, and it’s a huge one, as they will take on North Kingstown, which belted Coventry, 11-4, in its season opener yesterday and is expected to be one of the teams to beat in the state this season.
“Every game’s a big game,” admitted Crowley, “but they’re a very good program. They’re well-coached and they have kids who play year-round, so it will be a good measuring stick to see where we’re at.”
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24