The Toll Gate softball team has already separated itself from the pack in the Division I playoffs, winning three consecutive games to advance all the way to the winners’ bracket final.
But on Saturday, the Titans ended up where every team all season has ended up when it plays Lincoln – on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
The unbeaten Lions grabbed one run in the first and four in the third, and used a dominant 15-strikeout performance from pitcher Lindsay Mayer to shut out the Titans 5-0.
“They were able to string some errors and hits together,” Toll Gate head coach Shana O’Connor said. “We had the hits, but just couldn’t get the big hit in the time we needed.”
Lincoln finished the regular season 18-0 and had little trouble disposing of Chariho and Coventry on the way to facing Toll Gate.
And it was more of the same on Saturday. As the clear favorites heading in, the Lions are living up to their billing. By beating Toll Gate, they moved within one win of capturing the state title.
The Titans still have a shot, though. They dropped to the losers’ bracket final, where they were scheduled to take on Coventry on Monday at 5 p.m., with the results unavailable at press time.
Only Lincoln, Toll Gate and Coventry remain in the postseason.
If Toll Gate were to beat Coventry, it would advance to take on Lincoln again and it would have to beat the Lions twice to capture the title.
And there’s still reason for optimism, too, as O’Connor liked the way her team played in the second half of Saturday’s game.
“I think that we settled down after a couple of innings,” O’Connor said. “We started making solid contact and our defense improved in the last half of the game. Hopefully we’ll take that with us.”
It was the first half, however, that made the difference.
The Titans committed four errors in the first three innings, leading to three unearned runs.
Lincoln scored on an error on a ball hit by Stacy Mayer in the first, and it got its second run in the third on a single by Emily Bouthillette, scoring Adriana Toro, who had reached on an error.
The Lions continued to add to their lead in the third, as Alyssa Schermerhorm singled in the third run, and the fourth and fifth runs scored on a two-out triple by Sarah Albanese.
Pitcher Katie McCaughey limited the damage, as she allowed only six total hits on the day, but giving a team like Lincoln extra outs didn’t prove to be the best recipe for success.
“Our defense needs to improve,” O’Connor said. “I thought Katie pitched a great game for us today. I just think that offensively we need to string them together like they did, cut down on the errors and we can compete with them.”
With the bat in their hands, the Titans struggled to put the ball in play against the dominant Mayer.
Mayer struck out the first six batters of the game – needing just 10 pitches to strike out three hitters in the second inning – and she struck out the side again in the third inning after Toll Gate led off with singles from Tori Porter and Jenna Beauchamp.
In the fourth, Jessica Brosnahan doubled with one out and Courtney Conklin singled, but Mayer struck out Molly Turner and Porter to get out of the jam.
“She’s got a mix of pitches,” O’Connor said. “She was keeping the girls off balance. She does move the ball around nicely and uses a variety of pitches. The girls had some good swings, we had some nice hits, but we need to make more contact with the ball.”
McCaughey allowed only one baserunner over the final three innings – a two-out bunt single by Casie Beauchemin in the sixth – to keep the Titans in the game, but Mayer was too strong.
She stranded Ingrid Freeman at second after a one-out single by striking out Kaylyn Dion and McCaughey in succession, and she worked around a one-out single in the seventh from Beauchamp to secure the shutout.
Toll Gate actually ended up with the same amount of hits as Lincoln, but the scoreboard told a different story.
A long layoff may have contributed to Toll Gate’s tough start to the game, as it beat Cumberland, North Kingstown and Bay View all in a six-day span. But because of postponements all over the state due to weather, the Titans didn’t have a game from last Sunday, June 3, until the Lincoln game six days later.
“They’ve got to pick their heads up,” O’Connor said. “It was a long week for us, without playing since Sunday. I think that had a little bit to do with it. We had nice momentum going into the beginning of this past week, but with all the rainouts I think that definitely affected us.”
Yet, the Titans are still one of only three teams remaining in Division I, after being the No. 11 seed in the playoffs following an 8-10 regular season.
And O’Connor is hoping her team gets another chance to play against Lincoln.
“I definitely think we can compete with them,” O’Connor said. “I definitely do. We’ve just got to cut down on the errors.”