The Pilgrim softball team is in the midst of one of the program’s best regular seasons ever, but heading into this week the Pats didn’t really have a marquee victory to go with their marquee record.
They do now.
Ellen McDonnell hit a two-out, two-run, walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh on Monday afternoon to lift Pilgrim over first-place East Greenwich 4-3.
It was a gratifying win, as the Avengers had handed the Pats one of their two losses this season, a 5-4 defeat back in early April. East Greenwich also beat Pilgrim last year on more than one occasion, and is the two-time defending Division II champion.
Now that the Pats have proved they can beat the best, they’re as confident as can be.
“They’re definitely our division rivals,” McDonnell said. “It feels really good to beat them. They beat us a lot of times last year and it was really disappointing for us. It feels good to come back and have a nice win against them.”
It looked as though Pilgrim was going to come up just short once again, as East Greenwich held a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh, and pitcher Lauren Duvall got Tayla Ferreira to pop out to open the inning.
But then Duvall ran into some trouble, starting with No. 9 hitter Arianna Bordeleau. After fouling off the first pitch and taking a called strike on the second pitch, Bordeleau battled all the way back to draw a walk. That started the rally.
“Bordeleau was probably the at-bat of the game, drawing that walk when she’s down 0-2,” Pilgrim head coach Bill Aquilante said. “She battles at the plate. She’s not afraid of anybody.”
Katelyn Reph stepped in next, and she ripped a single up the middle to put runners on first and second. Madison Balutowski then worked a walk – after being down 1-2 – loading the bases with just one out and Pilgrim’s No. 3 and No. 4 hitters due up.
Kelsey Johnston was first to the plate, and she hit a shallow pop-up to left that EG’s Brooke Andreozzi raced in to catch. It was too shallow for Bordeleau to tag up on, bringing McDonnell to the plate with the bases still loaded and the Pats down to their final out.
“I was just trying to think about having fun and just doing what I do,” McDonnell said. “I wasn’t really thinking about the situation to keep myself calm.”
On the second pitch of the at-bat, McDonnell blooped a ball toward right field. EG second baseman Jackie DeFusco ranged back and dove, but the ball fell in and out of her glove and landed in the grass. Bordeleau scored with the tying run and Reph rounded third and slid in behind her with the game-winning run.
“I said, ‘This is the kind of game where I think if we’re close at the end I think we’ll pull it off,’” Aquilante said. “We did exactly that.”
The game was close throughout, as the Avengers took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning against Pilgrim starter Witashnah Ellsworth thanks to an RBI single by Sarah Gavin and another by DeFusco.
Pilgrim battled back in the first against Duvall, EG’s starter, when Reph doubled, took third on a sacrifice bunt by Balutowski and scored on a sacrifice fly by Johnston, cutting the lead in half at 2-1.
East Greenwich grabbed another run in the third on an RBI triple by DeFusco, but once again Pilgrim answered in the home half, this time on a bases loaded walk by McDonnell.
Then the game turned into a pitcher’s duel.
Duvall allowed just two base runners from the fourth inning to the sixth inning and Ellsworth battled out of jam after jam, stranding two runners in the fifth, two more in the sixth and another in the seventh.
“It’s the kind of game where when we needed a big out, Tash got us a big out,” Aquilante said.
Pilgrim’s defense stepped up, too. In the fourth, Ferreira made a leaping catch at second base on a hard liner off the bat of Andreozzi, stranding a runner at second. Then, in the sixth, Cora Geunes singled to left field with Keri Pallister on second, and Pallister headed for home. But a perfect relay from Stephanie Johnson to Reph to McDonnell at home beat her there, preventing a big run.
“It was a pitcher’s duel with some hitting, where there were some runners on base,” Aquilante said. “Defensively, while we weren’t pretty all the time, we made big plays when we needed to make big plays.”
Ellsworth scattered eight hits over her seven innings of work, while striking out six and walking two. Duvall allowed only five hits, struck out two and walked six.
At the plate, Reph had two hits, McDonnell had one, Ferreira had one and Ellsworth had one as well.
With the win, the Pats improved to 11-2 in D-II-South, while EG is a half-game ahead at 12-2. Pilgrim has three games left, and will likely need to win all three to have a chance to capture the division crown. It doesn’t get much easier initially, as the Pats were scheduled to take on D-I-North leading, 13-1 North Smithfield on Wednesday, with results unavailable at press time.
On Thursday, the Pats will travel to South Kingstown for a 6:30 p.m. game before finishing out the regular season at home on Friday against 7-7 Exeter/West Greenwich.
“Winning the division is still going to be tough,” Aquilante said. “We have to beat North Smithfield, South Kingstown and EWG, which is not easy. If we slip up once, we don’t win the division.”
The playoffs begin next week with the single elimination first round to be played on Thursday and Friday.