Plenty of factors were at play in Monday’s softball game between Toll Gate and Warwick Vets. There was strong pitching on both sides, steady defense and some scoring chances that fell by the wayside.
The only factor that made a dent in the scoreboard was the ultimate show of respect for one of the state’s top hitters.
Warwick Vets head coach Paul Kennedy elected to intentionally walk Toll Gate standout Pattie Turner in each of her three at-bats, even in the third inning when she came up with the bases loaded. The run that was forced in with that walk stood as the only tally of the game, as Toll Gate edged Vets 1-0.
For Toll Gate, it was a strange way to win; for Vets, a tough way to lose. But coaches on both sides could understand the decision to walk Turner. For Vets, it just didn’t work out.
“There is no doubt that she’s the best hitter in the state,” Kennedy said. “She might be the best player and she’s definitely the best hitter. Last year, let’s just say she buried us. Three at-bats, two home runs and a triple. She’s a very, very talented hitter. I’ll give them one run there. I’m not going to give them two or three or four. I know the way the game looks, losing 1-0, but it doesn’t matter. I would do it again.”
Each time Turner was walked, it drew groans from the Toll Gate side, but the way it turned out, the Titans couldn’t complain too much. Vets pitcher Bethany Rhodes limited the Titans to four hits, but the bases-loaded walk was enough to make the difference. Katie McCaughey pitched a shutout for Toll Gate, which improved to 3-0. Vets dropped to 1-2.
“We’ll take it,” said Toll Gate coach Shane O’Connor. “We’ll take any runs we can get. Walks, hits, errors, it doesn’t matter. A run’s a run in the books, and sure enough, it proved to be the winning one.”
The Titans forced Vets’ hand in that third inning thanks to three base hits. Tori Porter led off with a ground ball through the middle, the first hit off Rhodes, and Ingrid Freeman followed with a wind-blown single down the left-field line. After Rhodes got Kaylyn Dion to pop out, McCaughey laid down a perfect bunt and reached first to load the bases.
That brought up Turner, and Vets made its decision. Rhodes stayed out of the strike zone on her first two pitches before catcher Liz Bailey stood up for the full-on intentional walk once the count got to 2-0. Turner trotted to first after ball four, and Porter came home for the 1-0 lead.
In terms of the rest of the inning, the move paid off. Jessica Brosnahan hit into a fielder’s choice for the second out and Courtney Conklin grounded out to end the inning.
“From a coaching perspective, it could have been the best move for them,” O’Connor said. “Pattie’s a big threat at the plate and Vets respects her. When you’re looking at one run or possibly four, it’s a lot harder to catch up to four than it is to one.”
And Vets figured it could get to one.
Toll Gate had other ideas.
The ’Canes had already come up empty on two golden opportunities. They loaded the bases in the first inning on a walk to Liz Iadevaia and singles by Sarah Farrell and Liz Bailey, but McCaughey got out of the jam with a strikeout. In the second inning, Naomi Franzen drew a walk and Chelsea Reid doubled, but when Franzen tried scoring on an Amanda Graves bunt, she was thrown out at the plate.
The trend continued after the ’Canes fell behind. Whenever Vets threatened, McCaughey and her defense were at their best.
In the fifth, Sabrina Cain led off with a triple to deep right-center field. McCaughey then fell behind Reid 2-0 before inducing a ground ball back to the circle. McCaughey fielded it and threw to first for the out.
Graves followed with a ground ball to third. Conklin scooped it, looked the runner back and fired a strike that just got Graves for the second out. Rhodes then hit a hard ground ball to second, which Meghan McNulty handled for the final out.
“We squandered some chances,” Kennedy said. “We loaded the bases in the first inning, had a runner on third later on. We just didn’t get the one.”
Vets had runners on in the sixth and seventh innings, as well, but continued to come up dry. After singles by Farrell and Taylor Palermo put two on with two out, Porter fielded a hard ground ball and stepped on first for the third out. Graves singled with two outs in the seventh but McNulty handled another chance at second to end the game.
“Meghan McNulty played a great game at second base and we made some really nice plays in the field,” O’Connor said. “Katie pitched a great game. We got out of a couple of tough innings where they had runners in scoring position. Defensively, we were pretty solid today.”
McCaughey scattered seven hits and struck out four in the shutout, her first of the season. O’Connor would have liked to see some more offense backing her pitcher. The Titans had only one hit outside of their third-inning rally.
“We just couldn’t put it together today offensively,” O’Connor said. “We hit a lot of balls in the air. It was not our best offensive performance. I think we need to step it up a little bit.”
On the flip side, Rhodes was impressive for Vets. She didn’t record a strikeout but pitched to contact and let her defense do the work. Vets didn’t make an error.
Despite the final score, it was the second straight strong performance for the ’Canes, who beat Westerly 2-0 last Wednesday. For a team trying to bounce back from a 1-17 campaign a year ago, the last two games have been a big step in the right direction.
“The last 13 innings, we’ve given up one run,” Kennedy said. “That’s against Westerly, a team that scored 14 in one game and eight in another, and Toll Gate, who can put up some runs. The fact that we only gave up one in 13 innings – you’ve got to be pleased with that and I am. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but we’re making strides.”
And though Monday’s loss stung, the ’Canes couldn’t be too broken up about it.
“We walked [Turner] all three times,” Kennedy said. “I’ve got to figure if we don’t, she was going to do some damage. So I can live with that. The team can live with that. We played one heck of a game against a very talented team.”