By almost any measure, the Pilgrim girls’ softball team had a successful season. The Pats just would have liked to keep playing a little bit longer.
Pilgrim saw its best season since 2003 come to a close on Thursday with a 7-4 loss to St. Raphael. The Pats fell behind by six runs for the second straight game in the postseason, and couldn’t quite claw all the way back. They had lost 9-3 to North Providence under similar circumstances last Tuesday.
When it was all said and done, though, the Pats finished up as one of the final six teams remaining in Division II. The top six teams in the division from the regular season made up that list, and Pilgrim was able to call itself one of them thanks to its longest playoff run since winning the Division I title a decade ago.
Along the way, the Pats were able to capture the D-II-South title thanks to a 13-3 regular season and play a postseason game on the field at Rhode Island College, which is reserved for the later rounds of the postseason.
“The goal was to get to Rhode Island College and play on the field,” Pilgrim head coach Bill Aquilante said. “We wanted to do better when we got there, but we definitely achieved our goals.”
It was the slow starts in the last two games that sent the Pats packing.
Trying to rebound from the North Providence loss, Pilgrim couldn’t solve St. Raphael starter Kaylee Sylvestre over the first three innings, putting just one hitter on base during that span.
The Saints meanwhile – who went 16-2 during the regular season – didn’t waste any time. They scored a run in the first, two in the second and then grabbed three more in the third on a home run by Lauren Taylor.
Just like that, Pilgrim was down six runs again.
“They’re pretty deep,” Aquilante said. “One through nine they’re pretty good. The girl who hit the home run was the No. 8 hitter. She put a charge into it. They had hitting one through nine.”
The Pats mounted a rally in the top of the fourth inning. Ellen McDonnell singled, and Kelsey Johnston reached on an error. The next batter, Witashnah Ellsworth, hit a fly ball that clipped off the left fielder’s glove, plating Pilgrim’s first run. Caitlin Blanchard then hit a double into the gap that scored two more, making it 6-3.
“As we usually do, the second time through the batting order we got good looks and made good contact,” Aquilante said.
But it wasn’t enough. The Saints added another run in the bottom half of the fourth and Pilgrim grabbed one more of its own in the fifth on a double by Johnston to round out the scoring.
The Pats put a few runners on in the final few innings, yet couldn’t bring anyone around. They ended the game with only six hits, as their season came to a close.
Still, there was little to hang their heads about. The two teams that beat Pilgrim in the playoffs – North Providence and St. Raphael – had a combined regular season record of 33-3. North Providence is already in the finals, while the Saints were scheduled to play North Smithfield on Monday in the loser’s bracket semifinals.
Overall, Pilgrim went 2-2 in the postseason, and saw an up tick in its overall wins for the fourth consecutive season. In four years, the Pats have gone from 3-13 to 9-7 to 10-6 to 13-3.
“Getting to RIC was an accomplishment,” Aquilante said. “As much as they feel that they came up short of the goal, we can look back at the season and say we made it to Rhode Island College, we got to play on that big stage. And we won the South Division Championship, which is something we weren’t expecting until late in the season. It wasn’t even a goal that we set because East Greenwich was a really good team.”
Pilgrim can also take some solace in the fact that it should field a very competitive team next year. Only three players are graduating, albeit key ones. They are four-year starter Katelyn Reph, three-year starter Stephanie Johnson and outfielder Arianna Bordeleau.
“They meant a lot, because they were there for that 3-15 disaster in 2010,” Aquilante said. “Katelyn and Stephanie, they were there for that year. Arianna was a JV player that year, so she didn’t get the full experience of losing 10 in a row. That was a big senior class and it ended up with the three of them. I’ve got to give them the credit for sticking with it, not giving up after one year or two years when the record wasn’t going right. It was good to reward them finally for perseverance.”