Lately, the Toll Gate softball team has been putting itself in position to compete with some of the top teams in Division I.
But time and again, the Titans have gotten no further than that.
Playing Smithfield on Thursday, Toll Gate left 14 runners on base and could never come up with a big hit. The Titans were in it until the final inning, but the lack of runs cost them again, as they went down 7-4.
While Smithfield improved to 7-3, the loss for Toll Gate was its fourth straight. In each of those losses, the team has scored four or fewer runs, including a two-game stretch against Coventry and North Kingstown where it scored a combined one run.
After starting the season 5-1, the Titans have slipped to 5-5, and the lack of timely hits has been the chief reason for the losing streak.
“We seem to get a couple runners on here and there, but for some reason we just can’t get the big hit,” Toll Gate head coach Shana O’Connor said. “Everyone has a good hitting team, and in order to compete we need to get our bats rolling again. For some reason, the bats have been quiet lately.”
In Toll Gate’s defense, the four losses have come to four of the top teams in the division – Coventry, Chariho, North Kingstown and Smithfield.
But the Titans were hoping to be in that category themselves. With eight games remaining in the regular season, they still can be – as long as the bats start to wake up.
“They’ve just got to believe in themselves and they can do it,” O’Connor said.
On Thursday, the team was missing key players Adriana DiGiuseppe and Meghan McNulty, who were both out sick, which didn’t help the cause.
The Titans did manage eight hits, but only one came with runners in scoring position.
They stranded three runners over the first two innings, and then fell behind 4-0 in the bottom of the second.
Pitcher Katie McCaughey gave up a triple to Samantha Melaragno with one out, and a single from Sarah Elgar brought home the game’s first run. Run-scoring doubles from Kayla Bourgeois and Meghan Reall, plus an RBI single from Alexa Shilko gave Smithfield the four-run cushion.
In the top of the third, Toll Gate tried to come back. Kaylyn Dion led off with a single off Shilko – Smithfield’s starter – and walks to Pattie Turner and Jessica Brosnahan loaded the bases with one out.
After a strikeout, Molly Turner, Tori Porter and Jenna Beauchamp all drew walks, each of which added a run to the board.
In each of the next two innings, though, with a chance to either tie the game or take the lead, the Titans came up empty.
In the fourth, they stranded runners at first and second. In the fifth, they couldn’t produce a run after loading the bases with one out.
“It’s tough,” O’Connor said. “Back-to-back games with two entirely different pitchers makes it challenging, but they have to be able to adjust. I think they have the talent, they’ve just got to put it together as a team.”
Shilko was able to work out of the jams in part because of how she pitched to Toll Gate’s all-state catcher, Pattie Turner.
Turner was walked twice and was also hit by a pitch, which essentially removed the bat from the hands of one of the top hitters in the division.
“Pattie is in a difficult situation, because there are a lot of teams that intentionally walk her,” O’Connor said. “She never knows going up to the plate if they’re going to walk her, if they’re going to let her hit. It’s frustrating as a batter, knowing there’s the possibility that they’re going to give her the intentional walk, when she just wants to play ball.”
The game remained 4-3 into the sixth, when Toll Gate tied the score at four on an RBI single by Molly Turner, scoring Pattie Turner, who led off the frame with a single of her own.
Yet, in the bottom of the frame, Smithfield came right back. Melaragno reached on an error to open the inning, and a bunt single from Elgar put runners at the corners. After Elgar stole second, Bourgeois singled to center field, scoring both runners. An RBI single by Kerry Agrela later in the inning made it 7-4.
And that was simply too much to overcome.
Toll Gate put runners at second and third in the seventh inning, as Ingrid Freeman and McCaughey each singled and then moved up on a passed ball.
Pattie Turner came up with two outs and represented the tying run, but she flew out deep to left field – about 10 feet in front of the fence – to end the game.
“She’s hitting the ball really well when she gets the opportunity, it’s just frustrating for her at times,” O’Connor said of Turner.
Luckily for the Titans, the regular season is only half over, meaning the opportunity is still there for them to get back toward the top of the standings.
They were scheduled to play 4-5 La Salle on Monday, with the results unavailable at press time, before traveling to 5-4 Cumberland on Thursday at 4 p.m.
After that, the schedule gets more difficult. Toll Gate still has contenders Chariho, North Kingstown, Mount St. Charles, Lincoln and Coventry on the slate.
“When you’re missing some teammates, it puts a little bit of a damper on things,” O’Connor said. “The spirit, and it just changes the chemistry a little bit. But they need to be able to adjust and put it together. There’s no reason that the girls on the field now can’t do that.”