The Toll Gate softball team won’t look back too fondly on the games it played at Rhode Island College this season, but the Titans will have plenty of pride about getting there in the first place.
Only three other Division I teams in the state accomplished as much as Toll Gate did this season.
The Titans were eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday, losing 11-1 in six innings to Bay View in the loser’s bracket semifinals at RIC. It was the second game Toll Gate lost at RIC this postseason, as it also fell 12-0 to top-seeded Lincoln two games earlier in the winner’s bracket semis. Yet, along the way the Titans won three playoff games – two of which were unquestionably upsets – en route to a fourth-place finish in the state.
Only ninth-seeded Bay View, No. 1 Lincoln and No. 3 Coventry are still alive in the tournament. Toll Gate was the No. 12 seed.
“They did a remarkable job,” Toll Gate head coach Shana O’Connor said. “Seeded 12th, ending fourth – they should be proud of themselves.”
This season continued a trend of Toll Gate out-performing its regular season record in the playoffs. Last year, Toll Gate was the No. 11 seed and finished third. In 2011, the Titans were the No. 6 seed and took home fifth place.
None of those seasons ended with a state title, but the Titans have consistently been in the hunt.
“We lost 10 players last season, so it was all new faces playing together,” O’Connor said. “It was a process. At the end of the process, the end of the season, the girls were playing together as a group. They really seemed to work well together. With new faces as coaches, new faces as players, it’s a learning stretch. At the end of the season they did jell.”
This year’s run started with a 2-1 upset of No. 5 La Salle in the single elimination first round, followed by a 3-0 victory over No. 13 Mount St. Charles.
That set up a showdown with Lincoln for a berth in the winner’s bracket final, but the Lions flexed their muscles early. Twelve runs in the first inning doomed Toll Gate, as they were mercy-ruled by the defending champs.
“They capitalized on walks, couple errors here and there and they can hit the ball,” O’Connor said. “You can’t give Lincoln – or any team – you can’t put them on base. That automatically give them an advantage.”
The loss sent the Titans on the road Thursday to take on No. 6 East Providence in the loser’s bracket quarterfinals, a team that had beaten Toll Gate 7-0 during the regular season.
But the Titans, fresh off a bad loss, rose to the occasion.
Arizona Hunt-Kirkland tossed a complete game six-hitter, and Jamie Hopgood added two RBI, while Courtney Conklin and Ingrid Freeman had one apiece. The Titans grabbed two runs in the sixth inning to turn a 2-1 game into a 4-1 game, giving them the breathing room they needed.
Hunt-Kirkland stranded eight runners, including two in the bottom of the seventh to help Toll Gate advance.
East Providence was 10-6 during the regular season, while Toll Gate was 7-9.
“The girls played a great game today,” O’Connor said after the win. “They played as a team. It was a great team effort. Ari pitched a great game. Defensively we made the plays and batting, we hit with runners in scoring position.”
The win propelled Toll Gate back to RIC, where it met Bay View with a chance to advance into the state’s final three.
It wasn’t meant to be.
The Titans got one-out walks from Conklin and Jessie Brosnahan in the top of the first inning, but couldn’t bring either one around. In the second, Bay View pitcher Lexi Santurri struck out the side in order, and the Bengals got on the board in the bottom half of the inning.
Facing Toll Gate’s Courtney Marsh, Courtney McArthur led off with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Madison Caffrey stepped in and ripped a double to left, plating McArthur with the game’s first run. A single by Haley LeComte brought home Caffrey to make it 2-0.
Marsh escaped further damage in that inning, but there was no reprieve in the third.
After Toll Gate stranded two more base runners in the top of the third, Bay View tacked on five runs in the home half. The Titans committed three errors in the inning, and all five runs were unearned.
Two runs came home on a Jenna Beauchamp throwing error, another on a groundout by Caffrey and the final two came on a bunt from Dakota Grenier and a pop single over first base by LeComte. That made it 7-0.
“It was a good run,” O’Connor said. “We couldn’t get the hits when we needed to and we made way too many mistakes. You can’t do that in a playoff game.”
Tool Gate got one back in the fourth inning when Freeman singled and came around on a double off the base of the center-field wall by Brooke Casacalenda, but Santurri bore down to strike out Kelly Berard and get a groundout from Laura Salisbury, ending the inning without any further damage.
“They do have some good hitters,” Bay View head coach Ken Moretti said. “We worked out where to pitch to them, the pitchers and catchers worked hard with that. We figured we could hit the ball, it was just a matter of making the plays defensively.”
It didn’t get any better from there. Hunt-Kirkland relieved Marsh in the fourth, but Bay View added two more in that inning, then one in the fifth and one more in the sixth to end the game by mercy rule.
Toll Gate finished with just four hits off Santurri.
“We have one pitcher, and this is the 23rd game she’s thrown,” Moretti said. “She’s getting stronger and stronger as she goes.”
That brought an end to the Titans’ playoff run, one that lasted 11 days and five games.
Toll Gate will now say goodbye to its only two seniors – Freeman and Brosnahan – as it looks forward to next season with a big returning nucleus and a pedigree of postseason success.
“They did a great job as leaders this year, offensively, defensively and just as captains,” O’Connor said of Freeman and Brosnahan. “I wish them the best of luck.”
Bay View advanced to take on Coventry today in the loser’s bracket final. The winner will play Lincoln in the championship, and will need to beat the Lions twice in order to win the title.