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CALL/TIMES ALL-AREA SOFTBALL MVP: St. Raphael was in good hands with Tori Jacques in leadoff spot

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St. Raphael second baseman Tori Jacques thrived when it came to setting  the tempo for her team’s lineup from the leadoff spot. He ability to get  on base was a major reason why the Saints captured the Division I  regular-season title and entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed. For  her efforts, Jacques was selected MVP of the Call/Times All-Area  Softball Team.  A 2021 graduate of SRA, Jacques will continue her softball career at St. Bonaventure University.

PAWTUCKET — Tori Jacques is a coach’s dream.

Not only did the St. Raphael second baseman distinguish herself as one of the best players in the state during the 2021 season, but in the Saints' biggest game of the season – a Division I quarterfinal against Moses Brown – Jacques executed coach Ron LaBree's game plan perfectly to secure a 1-0 win over the Quakers.

“Before the game, coach said that if I got on base, Sydney [Duclos] was going to bunt and I was going to go from first to third on the play no matter what,” Jacques said.

Jacques did what she was told and scored what turned out to be the game's only run in the sixth inning when she scampered home on a passed ball. It was plays like that in the playoff game and the consistent plays the St. Bonaventure-bound standout made throughout her varsity career that earned Jacques the 2021 Call/Times Softball MVP honor.

“She produced so many runs with her bat and her feet. She played great defense at second and was just such a mentally tough kid,” LaBree said. “She's like having another coach on the field because she was prepared for anything that happened. She's been a big part of this program since she came here as a freshman. She just has everything you want in a softball player and she does it all at 100 miles an hour.”

Jacques knew this season was going to be a challenge when the Saints moved up from Division II to the state's top division, but her next challenge is even more daunting. Jacques is headed to western New York where she will play Atlantic 10 softball for the Bonnies. In preparation for next season, Jacques is traveling with the Rhode Island Thunder Gold AAU team this summer.

Jacques, who was in Pennsylvania this past weekend and is headed to Huntington Beach, Calif. to play in the PGF Nationals this weekend, is spending her summer in the outfield.

“I know I am one of the smaller girls. I'm not trying to hit the ball for power. I just try to get a hit or get on base any way I can,” said Jacques, who hit over .400 against Division I competition this season. “On defense, you should never take a play off. That’s why I go as hard as I can all the time. I'm definitely looking forward to playing in college. I'm a little nervous, but I'm going to give it everything I can.”

Jacques comes from a good gene pool. The SRA graduate's father, Kenneth, played baseball at Shea and her mother, DeAnna DiMarzio, was a softball standout for the Raiders. The couple’s daughter cut her teeth playing baseball in Fairlawn Little League before switching to rec softball late in elementary school. She started playing travel softball as a 10-year-old, which expedited her development as a player.

When Jacques enrolled at the Wolcott Street school, LaBree had already built a Division II powerhouse. The Saints won the 2015 D-II title and in Jacques' freshman season, the team went 12-5, but went just 1-2 in the playoffs. The Saints, thanks to the arrival of ace Sami Simonds, went undefeated during the regular season in 2019, but suffered another early elimination from the playoffs.

The Saints could've stayed in Division II this season, but LaBree and his kids, especially Jacques, wanted the challenge of playing teams like La Salle, Cumberland, Coventry and Pilgrim in Division I.

“I knew going into the year the pitching was going to be tough and it wasn't going to be easy for me,” Jacques said. “I tried as much as I could to get ready because it was going to be a lot like travel ball. I worked on my hitting and we really turned up the pitching machine in practice to get ready. I take pride in what we accomplished because we wanted to play in Division I and succeed.”

After losing their season opener to La Salle, the Saints reeled off 10 straight regular-season wins to earn the state's No. 1 seed in the playoffs. A lot of the Saints' success can be attributed to Jacques' effort on and off the field.

“She always came ready to play,” LaBree said. “She's such a great kid and her teammates liked her. She's a funny kid. What I will always remember about her is that her heart was so much bigger than her stature.”

LaBree said he will always remember Jacques for that game-winning run against the Quakers in the state quarterfinals. Jacques may have not won a state championship during her time at St. Raphael, yet there’s no denying she helped lay the foundation for what could be another strong push to capture the brass ring come next spring.

“I try to be a good teammate and help every girl on the team as much as possible,” Jacques said. “I try to give the girls pointers and I would show them how to do things. I just wanted be a good teammate and win games.”

Now, let’s meet the rest of the members of this year’s Call/Times All-Area Softball Team:

Sami Simonds, junior, P

St. Raphael Academy

The step up from Division II to Division I wasn't an issue for the hard-throwing righty. Simonds delivered impressive starts in wins over Cumberland, North Providence, Cranston West, and Pilgrim. She saved her best performance for the Division I quarterfinals when she fired a shutout against Moses Brown to secure a spot in the double-elimination round.

Simonds, who also was solid at the plate, went 11-3 in the circle with shutouts against East Providence, North Kingstown and the Quakers. She only allowed more than four runs in one game, the season opener against the Rams.

“The thing we always said about Sami is she kept us in every game,” LaBree said. “She never had a game get out of control when she was on the mound. When she had to bear down in big situations, she did. Going forward, we want to see her be more aggressive when she’s pitching, but she was really good this year. We always had a chance to win when she was pitching. If we scored four runs, we knew we’d win."

Sydney Duclos, sophomore, IF/P

St. Raphael Academy

Duclos proved to be a dual threat in her first season with the program. She pitched a no-hitter in an 8-0 win over Chariho and she also delivered an impressive start in a doubleheader sweep of Cumberland. At the plate, Duclos formed a strong 1-2 punch with Jacques at the top of the order for a team that scored at least four runs in nine of their 16 games.

“She was just a lot of fun to be around and she was a really nice surprise because we weren’t sure what we were going to get from her,” LaBree said. “When knew that she could pitch, but we weren't sure how she would do at this level. She was great in that second game against Cumberland to sweep the doubleheader and then she was on in the no-hitter against Chariho. Her bat was the biggest surprise because she hit almost .400 in Division I.”

Abbie Vallely, senior, P

Cumberland High School

The biggest reason the Clippers advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 2016 was Vallely’s work at the plate and in the circle. Vallely, who dealt with back injuries earlier in her career, produced the second highest single-season average in program history by hitting .509 with a .577 on-base percentage. She produced a program-record 11 doubles to go along with 16 RBIs. She also graduated with the program’s best career batting average.

Vallely also pitched the Clippers to impressive playoff wins over Chariho and reigning state champion La Salle.

“Abbie had a great season at the plate for us,” Cumberland coach Marty Crawley said. “Pitching-wise, she was rock solid and kept us in every game. The bigger the game, the better she played.”

Reilly Austin, sophomore, 1B

Cumberland High School

The jump from age-level AAU softball to varsity high school softball is big, but Austin made it look easy in her first season with the Clippers. After having her freshman campaign wiped out by the pandemic, Austin made up for lost time by leading the Clippers with 17 RBIs and a pair of home runs. She batted .392 with eight of her 20 hits going for a double.

“Reilly hit the ground running in her initial season with us,” Crawley said. “We plugged in at the top of the lineup on Day 1and she contributed all season long. She’s a tireless worker and a great kid who has a passion for the game. We’re blessed to have her in our program.”

Lauren Cipriano, freshman, 2B

Lincoln High School

It didn’t take Cipriano very long to let the rest of the state know she’s going to be a problem at the plate for the next four years. In her first varsity game against Johnston, the Lion belted a pair of home runs at Sullivan Field. Cipriano hit two more home runs in a game later in the week. She hit home runs in two more games to lead the Lions to the playoffs.

Cipriano also pitched early in the season, but she did her best work at second base.

“I knew from the start she was going to be a key to our team both defensively and offensively,” Lincoln coach Alyssa McCoart said early in the season. “She’s swings the bat well and I think that’s going to continue. She works hard on her own and that really pays off.”

Callie Thibault, senior, SS/C

Mount St. Charles

The Holy Cross-bound Thibault was the driving force behind the Mounties’ run to the Division II playoffs. Whether it was behind the plate or at shortstop, Thibault played exceptional defense and she was also one of the team’s top hitters. She was second in batting average (.364), third in on-base percentage (.491), first in slugging (.564) and her raw numbers were even more impressive.

Thibault led MSC in doubles (nine), to go along with 16 RBIs and 10 runs scored.

“Callie was our team MVP,” Mount St. Charles coach Henry Coleman said. “She led us on and off the field through the season, doing whatever it took to help us win. She was especially clutch when we needed it the most.”

Julianna Colbert, sophomore, P/IB

Burrillville High School

During the regular season Burrillville/North Smithfield co-op coach Bill Lacey rotated his three aces, but in the Broncos’ biggest playoff games, Colbert was in the circle. She shut down West Warwick in the Division III winners’ bracket final and then she bounced back from a slow start to pitch her team to a title victory over Mt. Hope.

Colbert appeared in seven games and posted a 6-0 record 0.64 ERA with 80 strikeouts in just 33 innings. She also batted .354 with five doubles, 15 RBIs and 14 runs for a squad that rampaged through Division III.

“I was surprised at how good she was. She was better than advertised,” Lacey said. “For a sophomore to be able to throw it that hard and to be able to throw her secondary pitches where she wanted was impressive. She knew how to work batters up in and and then low and away. Her arm movement also stayed consistent no matter what pitch she threw.”

Sam Ledger, sophomore, P/1B

North Smithfield High School

Division III hitters had no chance when Ledger was in the circle and pitchers were equally as helpless when the Northman was at the plate. Ledger came into the season not assured of starting in the circle, but she ended up throwing a team-high 35 innings, going 6-0 with a save thanks to a team-best 0.40 ERA.

At the plate, Ledger had a team-high 1.393 OPS due to her team-high three home runs, seven doubles and two triples. She also led the team in RBIs (25) and runs scored (22).

“I came into the season thinking Sam was a wild card,” Lacey said. “I had never seen her or watched her play any travel and then she came out in the week of pitchers and catchers and my thoughts changed quickly. I knew I had to get this girl some innings. Not only with her pitching, but her bat was also really consistent throughout the season. I plugged her in as the No. 3 hitter and she was incredible.”

Abby Fortin, junior, P/OF

North Smithfield High School

No player had to subjugate their ego to make the Broncos successful this season more than Fortin. The Northmen junior showed as a freshman she could suffocate D-I offenses, but this season she pitched against much weaker teams. Fortin played her role brilliantly and she made all the little plays in her team’s biggest games to ensure they finished the season unbeaten.

Fortin made a great play in the outfield in a tight win over West Warwick in the regular season and she started a double play in the third inning of the championship game that sparked a rally. Fortin led the team with .522 batting average and a .577 on-base percentage. She scored 15 runs and added five doubles. She went 4-0 with 0.56 ERA and a 0.52 WHIP.

“She did a really good job pitching for us,” Lacey said. “She played really good defense for us in the outfield, but she came up with a key play in the West Warwick game with a 7-4 force out. In the final, she started a double play in the third inning and then we scored four runs in the next inning. I can’t talk enough about this team and all the little things that they did to win games.”

Cheyenne Cooper, freshman, C

Tolman High School

No one in the state had better offensive numbers than the talented freshman catcher for Sholman, the Division IV top-seed. Cooper hit a ridiculous .860 with a Valley-best 55 RBIs, eight home runs – including three in one game – eight doubles and 11 triples for a Raider squad that advanced all the way to the Division IV final against Central.

Off the field, Cooper's teammates credited her with bridging the divide between the two Pawtucket schools that formed the co-op. Cooper setup the text chains and created events to improve team chemistry. After losing their first two games, the Raiders won every game until the winners' bracket final against the talented Knights.

“Her knowledge at the plate is what drives her and our team,” said Sholman co-coach and Cooper's uncle, Scott Cooper. “Cheyenne is looking forward to her sophomore year to put up even better numbers to help her team get over that runner-up hump and take home the title.”

Follow Branden Mello on Twitter @Branden_Mello

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