Friday’s game with Warwick Vets didn’t count in the league standings, but for the Toll Gate softball team, that was just about the only bad part of the day.
After struggling through tough performances and blustery conditions in their first two games of the season, the Titans took the field at Winslow Park under sunny skies on Friday and used a late surge to storm past Vets 12-0.
League game or not, it was a welcomed change.
“Everyone was just up and happy today, and we swung the bats well,” said sophomore Jamie Hopgood, who hit two home runs.
Both teams were looking to get on track after tough starts to league play. While the ’Canes won their non-league opener over Mt. Hope two weeks ago, they lost their first league game by a 10-0 score to La Salle.
The Titans were coming off a 6-2 loss to Coventry in their season opener and an 8-0 loss to Cumberland the next day. Coventry and Cumberland own three of the last four state championships.
“We faced two tough teams off the bat,” O’Connor said. “We’re still trying to figure out who’s playing where and it’s an adjustment period for everybody – for them and for me. It was also two extremely cold days. Both teams had to play in it, but they were unusual playing conditions.”
Friday’s sunny skies and seasonable temperatures were a major upgrade, and the Titans cashed in. Courtney Marsh, Arizona Hunt-Kirkland and Courtney Sheridan combined on the shutout and the offense broke open a 4-0 game with eight runs in the sixth inning, invoking the mercy rule.
“It’s good,” O’Connor said. “It shows that they have the ability to win. There are just things we need to work on.”
Vets threatened early, getting two runners on in each of the first two innings thanks to base hits by Chelsea Reid, Amanda Graves, Naomi Franzen and Kelsey Houle.
Marsh, who got the start for the Titans, stranded all four of those runners.
In the meantime, the Toll Gate offense went to work.
Ingrid Freeman led off the bottom of the first with a double and scored on a mis-played fly ball off the bat of Courtney Conklin. Conklin later came around on an RBI groundout by Sheridan, staking the Titans to a 2-0 lead.
Hunt-Kirkland relieved Marsh in the third and continued to keep the ’Canes off the board. She allowed a single to the first batter she faced but nothing else over her two innings of work.
Sheridan then came on in the fifth and worked around a leadoff walk thanks to an unassisted double play by Freeman at second base. Liz Iadevaia lined a base hit in the sixth, but Sheridan followed with two strikeouts. After a walk put another runner on, Sheridan induced a ground-out to end the inning.
Franzen, Vets’ pitcher, did her part to keep the game close. She allowed a run on a Conklin sacrifice fly in the fourth and a solo home run by Hopgood in the fifth. The ’Canes were within striking distance.
“It was a 4-0 game,” said Vets head coach Paul Kennedy. “We had the tying run on deck in the sixth.”
Then the Titans exploded.
Freeman grounded out to start the sixth, but Conklin followed with a hard line drive up the middle. Karly Mallette then worked a walk before Hopgood smashed her second home run in as many at-bats, this one a three-run shot.
Just like that, it was a 7-0 game.
“We definitely have potential offensively,” O’Connor said. “They have the ability to hit. The challenge for them is adjusting to the speed of the pitchers. Coventry’s pitcher wasn’t as fast. Cumberland came in and their pitcher had some pop on the ball. They took a little bit to adjust today, but they stuck with it.”
And the Titans didn’t stop. Sheridan followed the home run with a double, and Brooke Casacalenda knocked her in with a single, making it 8-0.
Kelly Berard was hit by a pitch to put two on and Laura Salisbury cracked a single up the middle – her fourth hit of the day – to bring Casacalenda home.
Then, on a 3-2 pitch, Jenna Beauchamp hit a high drive to center field. It bounced off the top of the fence and landed beyond it for a game-ending three-run homer.
“You’ve got to give credit to them,” Kennedy said. “They hit the ball. They put three balls out of the park. We’ve got to make some adjustments. The last inning, they were right on her. It showed.”
Eight different Titans had hits. Salisbury went 4-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI. Hopgood was 2-for-4 with the two home runs and four RBI. Beauchamp went 2-for-3 with the home run, a run scored and three RBI.
Freeman added two hits, while Conklin, Mallette, Sheridan and Casacalenda had one each.
On the pitching side, Marsh, Hunt-Kirkland and Sheridan combined to strike out four while scattering six hits.
“We’re lucky that we have three very good pitchers,” O’Connor said. “All of them can throw strikes, so they’re all going to be seeing some time here and there.”
Iadevaia had two singles to lead the Vets offense. Graves, Reid, Franzen and Houle had one hit each.
While the ’Canes were shutout for a second straight game, Kennedy saw reasons for optimism.
“Yesterday we played La Salle and we only had one strikeout,” he said. “We had a few more today, but overall, I’m happy with it. We’re putting the ball in play. I’m hoping the hits are going to come.”
The ’Canes will get back to action Wednesday when they host Westerly for a 3:45 p.m. game.
“We’ve got a lot of things we have to work on,” Kennedy said. “We’ll get right back at it Monday.”
The Titans were scheduled to play La Salle on Monday, with results unavailable at press time. They’ll play non-league games against East Greenwich and Pilgrim on Friday and Saturday.
“We just need to gain a little more experience as a team,” O’Connor said. “Hopefully, we’ll correct the mistakes that are happening, learn from them and then go from there.”