Locked in a 5-5 game in extra innings on Monday, the Toll Gate softball team saw its hopes of climbing into second place in the division evaporate in the blink of an eye.
Against a Coventry team that was a half-game ahead of the Titans in Division I-South going into the game, Toll Gate surrendered seven runs in the eighth inning – including a grand slam by Jillian Ward – and fell 12-7.
The final frame was a tough pill to swallow for the Titans, especially since they only had themselves to blame for being there in the first place.
Toll Gate gave up two unearned runs – one in the third and one in the fifth – and it was too much to overcome against the opportunistic Oakers.
“It’s a game that shouldn’t have gone extra innings,” Toll Gate head coach Shana O’Connor said. “Plain and simple. You can’t give Coventry an extra chance at bat. You can’t give them an extra chance to hit. They’re a great hitting team, and you can’t give a great hitting team an extra chance at bat.”
Toll Gate dropped to 8-8 in D-I, while Coventry improved to 9-6.
With rain pouring down almost from the opening pitch, hits were hard to come by, but both teams still struck early.
Coventry scored a run right off the bat in the first off Toll Gate starter Katie McCaughey when Tatiana Webb singled and Rachel Ball walked ahead of an RBI single by Kristin Gallagher.
The Titans came back with two runs in the home half of the inning against Coventry’s Kerrie Deliberis, loading the bases on consecutive singles by McCaughey, Pattie Turner and Jessica Brosnahan, then scoring on a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Courtney Conklin.
“The hitting definitely is starting to improve,” O’Connor said. “We’ve been scoring a lot more runs in the last few games.”
But armed with the lead, the defense began to falter.
It started in the third. After McCaughey gave up a leadoff double to Gallagher, she retired the next batter before Alyssa Derrick reached on an infield error. That brought home Gallagher, and it opened up the floodgates.
With two outs, Ward doubled home Derrick for a 3-2 lead, and Ward came around on a single by Deliberis. McCaughey stopped the bleeding there, but the Oakers had taken a 4-2 lead.
“The defense is starting to decline,” O’Connor said. “They need to get it together and work the defense and the offense and the pitching all in the same game, successfully.”
McCaughey worked her way around an error in the fourth inning before another error in the fifth led to another Coventry rally. After Derrick struck out, Ward hit a ground ball to Conklin at third, but her throw got away from Brosnahan at first, and Ward ended up at third base with one out.
Amanda Ritarossi singled her in, giving Coventry a 5-2 lead.
“You can’t make errors in the field,” O’Connor said. “They need to support their pitchers more. They made critical mistakes in the field. It was tough playing conditions today, and in that case especially when it’s hard enough to pitch the ball over the plate because it’s raining, you can’t make mistakes in the field.”
Yet, even with the defensive miscues, Toll Gate didn’t just throw in the towel.
It rallied for three runs in the home half of the fifth, tying the game at five. Kaylyn Dion doubled to open the inning and McCaughey reached on a bunt single. After Turner popped out, Brosnahan walked and Conklin brought home two runs with a single to center. Molly Turner followed that up with a single up the middle to drive home the third run of the inning.
McCaughey shut down Coventry in the sixth and seventh, and Toll Gate put runners at second and third with two outs in the seventh, but Deliberis induced a pop-out from Tori Porter to strand the runners and send the game to extras.
“You also have to be able to hit when there’s runners in scoring position,” O’Connor said. “They’ve got to come through with a big hit, and they didn’t do that today.”
In the eighth, O’Connor elected to bring in Courtney Sheridan to pitch. With Coventry about to start its fifth turn through the order, the hope was that Sheridan would give the Oakers a different look and keep them off-balance.
Unfortunately for the Titans, it didn’t pay off. Kathleen Cronin started on second base due to the international tiebreaker rules, and she scored immediately on a double by Webb. After a bunt single by Rachel Ball, Webb stole home when Ball stole second, and Gallagher walked to put two runners on base.
Nicole Bent stepped in next, and she drilled a double to left, plating Coventry’s third run of the inning and making the score 8-5.
That ended the day for Sheridan, as McCaughey re-entered the game at pitcher. She intentionally walked Bent, bringing Ward to the plate
On McCaughey’s first offering to Ward, she connected and drove the ball over the fence in center, capping the seven-run explosion.
“We weren’t trying to give her the grand slam, obviously,” O’Connor said. “She’s a good hitter, and with the right pitch it can happen.”
Toll Gate retired the next three batters, but the damage was done.
The Titans did what they could in the bottom of the eighth, scoring a run on an RBI single from Ingrid Freeman and another on a single by McCaughey, but they didn’t have enough to come all the way back.
The loss was discouraging, especially because it was a game that O’Connor felt like her team should have won in regulation.
“We shouldn’t have been in that inning,” she said.
Toll Gate will look to regroup for its final two games before the playoffs. It plays at 7-8 Chariho today at 4 p.m. and then hosts 10-4 North Kingstown on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
The Titans are in ninth place right now in D-I, and the top 12 teams make the playoffs. While Toll Gate has not locked up a playoff spot, it’s still in good position to qualify.
The postseason starts next Thursday.