For two years now, the Pilgrim softball team has had its sights set on Rhode Island College and the late rounds of the Division II playoffs that are held there.
On Sunday, the Patriots finally crashed the party.
After a close win over Davies in the single-elimination round on Thursday, the Pats cruised past Burrillville 9-4 on Sunday for a spot in the winners’ bracket semifinals. They’ll face North Providence tonight at 7 p.m. at RIC.
How did the Pats feel when they punched their ticket?
“It means we’ve got to set a new goal now,” said Pilgrim head coach Bill Aquilante. “We set the goal to get to RIC, and that’s just a part of everything. But it’s the first part and it’s a nice reward for them to get to play on that field. We’ve been pointing toward getting there for two years.”
The Pats figured to be a top contender this year. They went 13-3 in the regular season, which tied them for the fourth-best record in Division II. On Thursday, they cleared the first hurdle when they outlasted an upset-minded Davies team 5-4.
“It was scary,” Aquilante said. “Davies played well. I can’t take that away from them. They settled down nicely. Their pitcher did a good job keeping us down. We got the lead late and we were able to hold them down in the last inning.”
The win moved the Pats into the double-elimination portion of the tournament, and they welcomed Burrillville to town on Sunday. The Broncos went 8-8 in the regular season and knocked off third-seeded Middletown in the first round.
Upset possibilities were in play again when the Broncos took a 3-2 lead in the third inning, but the Pats responded with four runs in the bottom half of the inning and never looked back.
“We fell a game short of RIC last year,” Aquilante said. “Two years ago, we knocked on the door. Last year, we kind of banged on the door. This year, we had to put our foot through it. That was it. They stuck with the plan. That was the theme and now we’re there.”
After getting single runs in the first and second innings on RBI base hits by Ellen McDonnell and Arianna Bordeleau, the Pats watched Burrillville make its run. A two-run homer by Taylor Ross tied the game, and the Broncos took the lead later in the inning.
But Pilgrim answered in a big way.
McDonnell, Witashnah Ellsworth and Caitlin Blanchard hit three straight singles to start the inning, loading the bases with nobody out. Burrillville pitcher, Cassidy Tedeschi struck out Stephanie Johnson, but Pilgrim didn’t let her off the hook. Tayla Ferreira smacked a 2-2 pitch into the gap in left-center for a double, plating two runs to put the Pats back in front.
“Tayla’s double was probably the hit of the season,” Aquilante said.
And the Pats didn’t stop there. Katelyn Reph knocked in two more runs with a single. In the fourth, Ellsworth singled and came around on an RBI base hit by Ferreira. In the fifth, the Pats added two more when Ellsworth singled to score one and got in a rundown to get another run home.
In the meantime, the Broncos were deflated – and Ellsworth kept them that way. Pilgrim’s starter retired 10 of 11 batters after the three runs came home in the third. The Broncos got back on the board with three hits in the seventh, but never got close.
“Other than the one inning, she really cruised,” Aquilante. “She gives up the home run then she gets 10 of the next 11. She kind of stemmed it.”
The bats certainly did their job too. The Pats finished with 16 hits, led by Ferreira’s 3-for-3, three RBI day.
“She had an unbelievable day,” Aquilante said. “I can’t say enough about the bottom of the order today. What makes us a real good team is the fact that our seven-eight-nine can get things done.”
Ellsworth also had three hits, while Reph, McDonnell and Johnson had two each. Madison Balutowski, Kelsey Johnston, Caitlin Blanchard and Bordeleau all had one hit.
Reph, a senior captain, missed the Davies game with a knee injury, but strapped on a brace and had two RBI and a run scored against the Broncos.
“Katelyn had three hits playing on a bad knee,” Aquilante said. “She took it a little easy today but she wasn’t going to miss this game for anything.”
The Pats will know turn their attention to RIC. Led by ace pitcher Lindsey Cabral, North Providence went 17-1 in the regular season, the best record in all of D-II.
The Pats will be ready.
“Lindsey is outstanding,” Aquilante said. “She’s just tough to hit. She paints that corner, her ball has good movement. You don’t get a lot of solid contact off her. It’s going to be a challenge.”