The Pilgrim softball team certainly won’t look back at Monday’s game as one of its best of the season, but the Pats will take the result no matter what it took to get there.
Playing in an elimination game against Exeter-West Greenwich in the loser’s bracket of the Division II playoffs, the Pats fell behind 4-2 after four innings while committing five errors and striking out eight times – five of which were looking.
But a quick talk near the dugout and some timely hitting turned the tide quickly, as Pilgrim scored three runs in the fifth and never looked back en route to a 7-4 victory over the Scarlet Knights.
“We stayed in the game,” Pilgrim head coach Bill Aquilante said. “We limited the damage. They got one run in each of the first four innings despite the errors and the wetness and the sloppiness. When we came back in the dugout in the bottom of the fourth, I mentioned to them that it was only 4-2. It felt like a lot more. We came back.”
Carly Cabral went the distance on the mound, allowing only one earned run on five hits while striking one nine and walking one.
In the process, she went over 200 strikeouts for her career, as the nine she racked up on Monday put her lifetime total at 207.
Cabral has pitched all three of Pilgrim’s playoff games to this point, two of which have been wins – the program’s first postseason victories since 2003.
“Carly was out of her mind today,” Aquilante said. “I’m really proud of her.”
The No. 11 seeded Pats’ next game was scheduled for Wednesday against No. 6 West Warwick, with the results unavailable at press time. The Wizards beat Pilgrim 1-0 and 2-0 in their two meetings during the regular season.
Pilgrim is one of six teams remaining in the playoffs, and it would need five more wins to capture the D-II title. A win over West Warwick would put it into the loser’s bracket semifinals.
For now, though, the Pats are simply enjoying their most successful season in a decade.
“We have great senior leadership, and they don’t get rattled. They stick to the plan,” Aquilante said.
In the early going, the Knights seemed hell bent on foiling that plan, though, as they took a 4-2 lead with single runs in each of the first four innings. Shannon Laiho and Breanna Hopkins each had an RBI single, Rebecca DeFeo had a sacrifice fly and the fourth run came around on an error.
The Pats managed to scrape two runs across against EWG pitcher Andrea Artesani thanks to a wild pitch in the first – which scored Katelyn Reph – and an RBI single in the third from Ellen McDonell, scoring Danielle LeBlanc.
But Artesani appeared to be in control, as she struck out four consecutive batters in the first and second innings, and then struck out two while retiring the side in order in the fourth inning. Her defense also helped her out, as LeBlanc was caught off third base on a Cabral bunt with nobody out and runners on second and third in the third inning.
After Cabral stranded a runner on third after a leadoff triple in the top of the fifth inning, the Pilgrim offense finally seemed to get comfortable the third time through the order.
“We’ve been like that all year, where we’ve gotten around the third time and we’ve been really effective,” Aquilante said. “Now Andrea, this is the third time we’ve batted against her, so most of the girls have had 10, 12 at-bats off her through the course of the season.”
LeBlanc, the No. 9 hitter, got hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the frame, and she immediately advanced to second on a wild pitch. After Reph struck out, LeBlanc stole third base and she scored on an infield single by Cabral to make it 4-3.
An infield error on a ball hit by Kelsey Johnston then put two runners in scoring position for McDonnell, who laced a double into right field, plating Cabral and Johnston to give Pilgrim its first lead at 5-4.
“Ellen has been unbelievable,” Aquilante said. “She had two today, and she’s 6-for-9 in the playoffs.”
Artesani got out of the inning with no further damage, but the Pats were suddenly in the driver’s seat.
Cabral kept it that way.
One batter reached base in the sixth inning on a one-out error, but Cabral calmly struck out the next batter and got the third out on a pop-up, preserving the lead.
In the bottom half, the Pats padded their lead on a two-run single by Johnston – scoring LeBlanc and Reph – to go up 7-4.
“That was a big hit late by Kelsey,” Aquilante said. “That’s a big hit. That puts us from 5-4 to 7-4, and that changes the whole complexion of that seventh inning.”
And in the seventh, Cabral set the side down one-two-three to finish the job.
Pilgrim finished the day with only five hits off Artesani, but it drew six walks and was hit with two pitches.
LeBlanc led the way offensively. She finished the day 1-for-1, but also was hit with a pitch and drew a walk. She stole four bases, and scored twice.
“I think the big spark was Danielle today,” Aquilante said. “She started out that inning by getting hit by the pitch, and then she made some things happen on the bases. She had four stolen bases today. Her speed really set the tone.”
Cabral added two hits, while McDonnell and Johnston had the others. Reph also reached base twice.