The Toll Gate softball team limped into the playoffs with five losses in its last six regular-season games.
There’s no limping now.
The 11th-seeded Titans beat Cumberland in extra innings last Thursday in a single-elimination game, rolled over No. 3 North Kingstown 8-2 on Friday and beat No. 2 Bay View 2-0 on Sunday afternoon.
The Titans are now in the winners’ bracket final, and if they win their next two games, they’ll take home the state championship.
Considering where it started – an 8-10 season and a rough stretch run – it’s already been quite a ride.
“The girls are playing as a team,” said Toll Gate head coach Shane O’Connor. “It’s been a phenomenal difference. The energy level is up, the intensity level is up and they’re just playing as a team instead of nine individuals. They’ve all come together and it’s amazing. It’s like night and day.”
From the beginning, the Titans thought they were capable of getting to this point, but that belief was tested many times. Toll Gate went 5-1 out of the gate – and then won just three more regular-season games.
But the playoffs represented a chance for a fresh start.
The Titans seized it.
“I think we pretty much put all the mistakes behind us, and just tried to get it together as a team,” said senior pitcher Katie McCaughey. “We got on the same page, and it’s working.”
The run started with a do-or-die game against Cumberland. The top four teams in D-I get a bye into the double-elimination bracket, but everybody else is forced into a single-elimination game. For the Titans, that meant a trip to No. 6 Cumberland, the team that ended their season last year.
The Titans got their revenge – and gave themselves a major jumpstart in the process. After seven scoreless innings, Toll Gate busted things open with four runs in the top of the eighth. Jessica Brosnahan delivered the big blow with a bases-loaded double that brought three runs home. The Titans then held off a charge from Cumberland in the bottom of the eighth to win 4-2.
In retrospect, it was just what the Titans needed.
“They played a heck of a game against Cumberland,” O’Connor said. “It was a phenomenal defensive game and the bats came alive. It definitely gave us some momentum and it gave the girls some confidence. We had lost a couple of games in a row, and it was nice to see the girls step it up and play to the next level.”
One day after the win over Cumberland, the Titans traveled to No. 3 North Kingstown, who had beaten them 4-1 in the season finale and 13-4 earlier in the season.
This time, it was a completely different story.
The Titans jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first thanks to hits from McCaughey and Brosnahan and bases-loaded walks to Courtney Conklin and Jamie Hopgood.
And they never trailed.
North Kingstown made it 2-1 in the bottom of the first, but McCaughey found her groove from there, retiring 11 in a row and not allowing another hit until the sixth.
“She had a solid defense behind her and she pitched very well,” O’Connor said.
The offense also delivered, scoring four runs in the fourth and two more in the seventh. Molly Turner started the fourth-inning rally with a single and Ingrid Freeman knocked her in with a triple. Kaylyn Dion followed with an RBI double, McCaughey walked, and Pattie Turner plated two more runs with a double.
In the seventh, Brosnahan hit a towering double, Conklin singled, and Jenna Beauchamp brought both runners home with a single up the middle.
“We were solid – pitching, defense and finally the bats came alive,” O’Connor said. “Every member of the team contributed, offensively and defensively. It was definitely a team effort and it’s nice to see the girls play together.”
The win over North Kingstown set the Titans up for their toughest test yet – a match-up with Bay View on Sunday at Rhode Island College. The Bengals went 14-4 in the regular season, winning 10 of their last 11 games. They cruised past Cranston West 7-0 on Friday.
But again, the Titans were up to the task.
McCaughey allowed just three hits on her way to a complete-game shutout, and the offense came through with single runs in the fifth and sixth innings en route to the 2-0 victory.
Toll Gate took a 1-0 lead in the fifth. Molly Turner walked to start the frame and eventually came around on a fielder’s choice. In the sixth, Pattie Turner singled and later scored on a base hit by Conklin.
McCaughey did the rest.
In their stretch of 10 wins in their last 11 games, the Bengals averaged eight runs per game. But McCaughey rarely let them threaten. She worked around a one-out triple in the seventh to finish off the shutout. It was only the second time Bay View had been shut-out all year, and the other one was the second game of the season.
“Katie pitched a phenomenal game,” O’Connor said. “Limiting Bay View to only three hits is fantastic. She hit her spots today, she mixed up her pitches really well and I think she kept them off guard. She was able to limit a very good offensive team.”
Now the Titans wait. Rain had an impact on the other side of the bracket, so the Titans won’t even know their opponent until tonight. It’s likely to be top-seeded Lincoln, who went undefeated in the regular season.
The winners’ bracket final is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Rhode Island College.
The Titans will just try to stay hot.
“It’s tough coming back from being the 11 seed and then having to play the big teams,” McCaughey said. “But it’s nice that everyone picks each other up, and it’s good to know that if I make a mistake on the mound I know that my teammates are behind me. That’s a good feeling. It’s been a lot better towards the end of the season.”