The Pilgrim and West Warwick softball teams played twice in the regular season and both games had a similar feel. West Warwick won 1-0 and 2-0 thanks to just enough offense and the dominant pitching of Val Kiers.
Last Wednesday, the teams met in the losers’ bracket of the Division II playoffs, and Pilgrim finally changed the script.
Unfortunately for the Pats, West Warwick delivered some changes of its own.
Pilgrim finally got to Kiers as it scored two runs in the first and one in the fourth en route to a 3-1 lead. But the Wizards found more offense too and scored five runs in the fifth. Kiers then held Pilgrim in check the rest of the way as the Wizards stayed alive with a 7-4 victory.
“I think we were surprised that Pilgrim scored right away,” said West Warwick head coach Brian Palazzo. “That put us back on our heels. Then, basically, we got a little more patient at the plate and we finally strung some hits together. We haven’t done that the whole playoffs.”
West Warwick, the No. 6 seed, was coming off a shocking 13-0 loss to No. 7 Woonsocket a day earlier. Pilgrim, which had stayed alive with a losers’ bracket win over Exeter/West Greenwich, wasted no time jumping on the Wizards while they were down. Katelyn Reph, Carly Cabral and Kelsey Johnston all had singles in the first inning, and the Pats capitalized on an error to put two runs on the board.
West Warwick scored one in the bottom of the first, but the Pats broke through again for a run in the fourth on an RBI single by Stephanie Johnson.
The Pats were in control – but at the same time, the lead wasn’t as big as it seemed.
“It’s kind of the opposite of the other playoff games where we were behind and it felt like we were further behind,” Pilgrim coach Bill Aquilante said. “Today, we were ahead and it felt like we were further ahead. We weren’t.”
And soon enough, the Pats weren’t ahead at all.
In the circle for Pilgrim, Cabral breezed through four innings before West Warwick came to life in the fifth. Taylor Levesque walked to start the inning and Nicole Moretti singled. Cabral got Katherine Palmer for the first out, but Dana Barclay walked to load the bases.
No. 3 hitter Kayla Rutter then smashed a bases-clearing triple to left center field to give the Wizards the 4-3 lead.
“It was good to see her to do that,” Palazzo said. “She’s been one of our best hitters, but she’s kind of struggled with runners on. It was nice to see her do that in a big situation.”
The Wizards tacked on two more runs in the fifth thanks to an error and a bases-loaded walk, which made it a 6-3 game.
Armed with the lead, Kiers went to work. She pitched around a one-out single in the sixth, finishing the frame with a pair of strikeouts.
“Val finally settled down,” Palazzo said. “I think the first inning was kind of a carryover from yesterday, where she kind of got hit hard for a few innings. Then she found her control and she basically got into her groove.”
Still, the Pats had a rally in them. Danielle LeBlanc led off the top of the seventh with a bunt single. Kiers got Reph to pop out before Cabral reached on an error. Kelsey Johnston followed with a hard ground ball to the right of shortstop, but Mikaela Grosso made a diving stop and threw to third for the second out.
Pilgrim kept coming as Ellen McDonnell singled to load the bases. Lauren Peledeau then worked a walk to bring in a run and make it 7-4.
But Kiers and the West Warwick defense quickly ended the rally. Johnson hit another ground ball between shortstop and third, and Grosso made another diving stop then flipped the ball from her knees to Rutter at third for the final out.
“I knew at the end we were going to get runners on base,” Aquilante said. “[Grosso] made two great plays. We might still be playing right now if she doesn’t make those plays.”
As it was, the Pats saw their season come to an end. West Warwick moved on in the losers’ bracket, where it beat Prout on Sunday to stay alive.
For the Pats, the loss was tough to take. It ended the program’s most successful season in years.
“They really got along well,” Aquilante said. “It’s tough for them to understand that it’s the end. You don’t realize you’re in the moment until the moment passes. We’ll look back on it a few weeks from now and realize what we accomplished.”
The Pats will say goodbye to six seniors, including multi-year starters like Cabral and Peladeau.
“It’s tough with the six seniors,” Aquilante said. “They’ve been with me for a long time. Next season, to not have them there is going to be weird because they’ve done so much.”
But the departing Pats can take solace in the stage they’ve helped set.
“Any time you win 10 games and two playoff games, you’ve got to call it a good season,” Aquilante said. “They started a little tradition. We’re at a point now where girls playing softball expect to win and expect to make the playoffs. It’s not like you’re losing a bunch in a row. They’re already talking about coming back next year and going further than this.”