In nearby spots in the standings and with similar performances as of late, the Toll Gate and Warwick Vets softball teams weren’t separated by very much entering Tuesday’s game.
On the field, predictably, one run made the difference.
Toll Gate scored twice in the first inning and once in the fifth, giving it just enough to hold off the ’Canes for a 3-2 victory at Winslow Park. Michelle Spremulli launched a two-run home run for Vets in the sixth, but Toll Gate pitcher Courtney Marsh regrouped afterwards to earn the win.
Each team had won two of their past three games coming in to put them on the verge of securing playoff berths, although Toll Gate formally clinched its berth with Tuesday’s win. At 4-8, the Titans are tied for the No. 13 spot in D-I, with 16 teams qualifying for the postseason. Vets is 3-10 and occupies the No. 15 spot, and will clinch with either a win in its final three games or one more loss by winless Woonsocket.
“I think we and Toll Gate are two evenly matched teams,” said Vets head coach Paul Kennedy. “They got the better of us today.”
Both pitchers controlled the game, and they each went the distance. Marsh allowed just three hits while walking one and striking out eight. Vets’ Kayla Morin was nearly as good, allowing three runs – two earned – on eight hits while walking three batters, although two were intentional. She struck out five in the loss.
Marsh allowed just six baserunners, and didn’t give up her first hit until there was one out in the first inning. After Vets’ leadoff hitter Natasha Savage reached on an error to start the game, Marsh retired the next 10 batters she faced.
“She was hitting her spots well,” said Toll Gate head coach Shana Willis. “She was hitting that low, outside pitch very well. She was moving the ball in and out, keeping them on their toes.”
While there wasn’t much scoring to be had all day, the Titans grabbed the early lead and never gave it up. With one out in the first, Laura Salisbury smacked a double to left field and Jamie Hopgood was intentionally walked. A single by Courtney Conklin loaded the bases with one out and Karley Mallette followed that with a fly ball to right. Kelsey Houle threw home to try to get Salisbury at the plate, but the throw was high and Salisbury slid in safely. With the ball at the backstop, Hopgood came home with Toll Gate’s second run.
Vets catcher Emily Walason was also injured on the play, and though she played through four innings, she was removed in the fifth.
“We’re starting to finally get the hits with runners in scoring position,” Willis said.
From there, both pitchers went to work. Morin stranded a runner in the fourth and fifth inning, while Marsh got out of a two-on, one-out jam in the fourth after a single by Liz Iadevaia and an error that allowed Michelle Spremulli to reach. Walason flew out to right for the second out, and Marsh struck out Arietta Chevian to retire the side.
“Just not enough hitting,” Kennedy said.
In the bottom of the fifth, Toll Gate got a much-needed insurance run when Jenna Beauchamp and Salisbury singled with one out ahead of another intentional walk to Hopgood. Conklin brought home Beauchamp with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.
The run proved important in the next inning when Spremulli launched a two-run homer over the center-field fence, scoring herself and Savage to cut the deficit to one.
“It would have been nice to have a second girl on,” Kennedy said. “Every time Michelle gets up there’s a chance. You were just hoping there were two people, or they didn’t get the extra run that they got.”
Vets’ next batter, Mariana Brawn, reached on a walk and represented the tying run, but Conklin gunned her down trying to steal second.
“If she’s on first, you’re probably going to need two hits to get her in, and I don’t know if we were putting two hits together that often, so let’s give it a try,” Kennedy said of the steal attempt.
Toll Gate nearly added to its lead in the bottom of the sixth but stranded two runners, yet Marsh made it irrelevant when she set down the side in order in the seventh to finish off the victory.
“She pitched one heck of a game too,” Kennedy said of Marsh.
Beauchamp and Salisbury led the way offensively for Toll Gate with two hits apiece.
Each team will now gear up for the stretch run, as they try to improve their playoff positioning. Neither team can finish in the top eight and therefore they’ll both go on the road for the single-elimination first round, which is scheduled to begin on May 29.
Vets was to host unbeaten North Kingstown on Wednesday, then play Bay View and Coventry next week to wrap up the regular season. Toll Gate was set to host Cranston West on Wednesday, host one-win Barrington today at 3:30 p.m., and then play at North Kingstown and Bay View next week.