The Pilgrim softball team has been consistent with the bats all season and has averaged just over six runs per game. That means when they don’t score, it’s more about what the opposing pitcher is doing right than anything the Pats are doing wrong.
That was the case Thursday, and unfortunately for the Pats, it felt like dj vu.
For the second time this year, West Warwick pitcher Val Kiers shut out the Pats. This time she scattered six hits and struck out seven. Pilgrim’s Carly Cabral was almost as good, but the Wizards capitalized on their scoring chances on their way to a 2-0 victory.
Pilgrim, which dropped to 9-5, has been shutout twice this season. Kiers is responsible for both.
“I’ve got to give all the credit to Val,” said Pilgrim head coach Bill Aquilante. “Whenever we don’t score, I’ve got to look at the other pitcher. She just did an outstanding job. That’s twice she’s shut us out over 16 innings. She’s phenomenal. You’ve got to tip your cap to her.”
Pilgrim has now lost two close games to contenders in seven days. First-place East Greenwich beat the Pats 2-1 the Thursday before. In between that game and the loss to the Wizards, the Pats grabbed a crucial 8-7 victory over Cranston East to keep themselves in third place in D-II-Central.
With a win over West Warwick, the Pats would have moved into a tie for second place, and it looked like they were on the right path in the early going.
Cabral needed just four pitches to get through a scoreless first inning and only nine pitches in a perfect second. After two strikeouts to start the third, West Warwick’s Nikki Moretti made Cabral work, drawing a walk after a 12-pitch at-bat. But Cabral got a groundout on the very next pitch for another scoreless frame.
On the other side, the Pats were having more luck against Kiers – except that they weren’t scoring. Cabral singled with one out in the first but was caught stealing when she slid past the second base bag.
In the second, the Pats had perhaps their best chance. Ellen McDonnell reached on an error to start the inning and Lauren Peladeau put down a sacrifice bunt. Stephanie Johnson followed with a single and then stole second, putting two in scoring position with one out.
Kiers buckled down, though. Stefani Quaine had two bunt attempts go foul before striking out. Kiers then struck out Tiffany Legare to end the threat.
“That one inning where we got second and third and two outs, we couldn’t get the run across,” Aquilante said. “That hurt. That was kind of our chance to get the lead.”
West Warwick had a chance soon after and didn’t waste it. Leading off the fourth, Kat Palmer hit a soft line drive into center field for the first hit off Cabral. She moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. After Cabral got a strikeout for the second out, the Wizards got the clutch hit they needed when Mikaela Grosso lined a single to left. Palmer raced home to make it 1-0.
“They had one good chance and cashed in,” Aquilante said. “We had one good chance and we left the runners. Then Val took over.”
Pilgrim got a one-out single from Katelyn Reph in the third, but she was forced out at second, and Kiers quickly ended the inning with a strikeout. Peladeau singled in the fourth, but she too was forced out at second. Kiers got a popup to end that inning.
From there, Kiers retired the next nine batters she faced until Pilgrim mounted one last charge. Now down 2-0 after the Wizards added an insurance run in the sixth, the Pats went to work. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Quaine smashed a double to deep left-center field. Legare followed with a line drive up the middle, and she represented the tying run at first base.
Unfortunately for the Pats, Kiers was undeterred. Danielle LeBlanc fought off several tough ones in an eight-pitch at-bat but ultimately flew out to center field to end the game.
Despite the loss, the Pats are in good position. They’re a game ahead of Exeter/West Greenwich for fourth place in D-II-Central with two games left. Since the league is so tough, the Pats still have some work left to do, but they should have the inside track for a playoff berth.
“If we played in another division, we’d be all set,” Aquilante said. “Here, we’re still fighting and looking for that 10th win, to kind of make sure things are okay. I told them not to worry about it. I’ll go home and stress out about the standings. I just want them to worry about the games and trying to get as many wins as they can.”
Pilgrim visits EWG today at 4 p.m. before closing out the season Friday night against Johnston. The Pats will host the game under the lights at Clegg Field.