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PROVIDENCE â€“ To Emily Bouthillette, a whack to the face never felt so good.
Minutes after Lincoln High had clinched an easier-than-anticipated 5-1 victory over Coventry to claim its second straight R.I. Division I Tournament title on Sunday afternoon, Bouthillette's fellow senior tri-captain, Lindsay Mayer, accepted the state championship plaque.
When Mayer heard fans screaming from the third-base gate to spin and hoist it â€“ of course for photos â€“ she accidentally struck her teammate, and immediately responded, â€śEm, I'm so sorry!
â€śI didn't mean it,â€ť Mayer laughed afterward, â€śbut I know she's going to get me back!â€ť
There's really no reason. By about 2:45 p.m., the gritty Lions had capped a stunning two-year run with a perfect mark of 43-0 (21-0 this time around), in the process earning the hardware they so desperately wanted to recapture.
In her role, the righty Mayer allowed only three hits and four walks while whiffing a quartet in her complete-game outing. As for head coach Dick Ryan's offense, sophomore Adriana Toro went 2-for-3 with a triple, two RBI and two runs scored; junior Lauren Hervieux 2-for-4; classmate Casie Beauchemin 2-for-3 with a pair of runs; and Mayer herself 1-for-4 with an RBI.
Even before the ceremony had begun, Ryan accepted congratulations from Superintendent of Schools Georgia Fortunato, Principal Kevin McNamara and Athletic Director Brian Fineberg just outside his third-base dugout.
To the latter, Ryan exclaimed, â€śNow, finally, I can get on a plane!â€ť
Fineberg merely grinned.
Ryan referred to the fact he was forced to temporarily postpone a family vacation to Aruba; he and his wife, Jean, as well as daughter Kelly and her boyfriend, had been scheduled to leave Saturday morning. But, with all of the recent rainstorms hitting the area, Rhode Island Interscholastic League officials set the title tilt for 1 p.m., Sunday.
â€śMy wife has been very supportive throughout this (dilemma),â€ť Ryan offered afterward, never mentioning what a fantastic Father's Day gift he had received from his kids. â€śShe told me I belonged with the girls.
â€śI was more worried about how the layoff would affect them than when I'd fly out,â€ť he added. â€śThis is such a special group. I only have two seniors, but they somehow got the whole team together to (manufacture) this roll to 43 straight.
â€śThis year, we had a target on our backs (after posting a 22-0 record); it said in the paper that it would be our championship to lose. Everyone was gunning for us, but this was a total team effort. There's no individual stuff here. Lindsay and Emily are good, but all the other kids came up big when they needed to, and that's not just this game, but all season.â€ť
He also indicated his wife and daughter had left for Aruba on Saturday, but would join them soon.
â€śI'm leaving (today) at 7:30; my brother-in-law is picking me up at 4:30 (a.m.), and we'll head straight to Logan (Airport),â€ť he giggled. â€śBy 12:30 or so, I'll be celebrating with a pina colada in my hand.
â€śJean gave me the opportunity to either fly with them on Saturday or stay with the girls,â€ť he continued. â€śI couldn't leave them, but I promised her, 'On Monday, I'll be on that flight!'â€ť
Even before the gold medals had been awarded, Ryan peered at his cellphone and noted, â€śWe won the title last year on the very same day.â€ť
Talk about incredible irony, especially given all the postponements.
The feisty Knotty Oakers, seeded third in this tourney, closed its season at 16-6.
As for the contest itself, it seemed Coventry would get on the board immediately, as freshman Kaitlin Mattera singled down the right-field line to open the first, then moved to second on senior tri-captain Tatiana Webb's sacrifice bunt and third on fellow captain Kristin Gallagher's groundout to second.
Still, Mayer fanned senior Nicole Bent for the final out.
Lincoln responded in kind in the back half; it fact, it gained a 1-0 lead after only two batters.
Beauchemin started the flurry with an opposite-field hit to left, and Toro pounded a triple to the left-center gap to plate her.
The elder Mayer scored Toro with a groundout to second, and it looked as if the Lions would plate more after senior righthander Kerrie Deliberis walked Bouthillette, sophomore Stacy Mayer reached on an infield hit and Hervieux poked a single to left to juice the bags.
Still with one down, however, Deliberis caused sophomore designated player Alyssa Schermerhorn to pop to short and junior McKenzie Cavanaugh to ground to third, Gallagher stepping on her own base.
While Lindsay Mayer sailed along, retiring 16 of the next 19 Oakers (the other three were bases-on-balls), Lincoln looked to rally again in the third. The recent graduate Mayer opened it with a single down the right-field line and moved to second when sister Stacy walked.
That's when Hervieux drilled a hit to right, and Lindsay appeared to score when she slid home with her right hand extended. The umpire, though, deemed she hadn't touched the plate, and Bent immediately applied the tag.
Schermerhorn struck out swinging to close it.
The Lions added two more in the fourth, and they came in somewhat unusual fashion. Junior Meredith Walsh took first on a one-out bunt hit and reached second on Beauchemin's bloop single near the left-field stripe before Toro's knock up the middle loaded the bases once more.
The shortstop Mattera then made a solid stop of Lindsay Mayer's grounder, throwing to Bent to get a sliding Walsh, though Deliberis walked both Bouthillette and Stacy to plate Beauchemin and Toro and give Lincoln a 4-0 advantage.
Ryan and Co. managed another in the fifth after Schermerhorn drilled a leadoff single to center, took third on two wild deliveries and hustled home on Toro's sacrifice fly to center.
Coventry nevertheless continued to battle. In the top of the seventh, freshman DP Brooke Keresztessy led with a bloop hit to the mound (on the play, Lindsay Mayer and junior third baseman Kellyn Dyer miscommunicated on who would make the catch).
Keresztessy then flew to third on junior Rachel Ball's strong hit to center (one that just escaped the glove of a sliding Toro), then raced in on sophomore Amanda Ritarossi's grounder to second. But the University of Virginia-bound Mayer struck out Deliberis before senior tri-captain Tatiana Webb crushed a line drive to right.
Beauchemin, as she had in the winners' bracket final, ended the Oakers' hopes with a fantastic sliding snag.
â€śI'm ecstatic right now,â€ť Lindsay chuckled after sealing her supreme final two campaigns with a stellar pitching mark of 36-0. â€śI felt pretty good out there; I was just trying to mix up my pitches. In other games against them, I've thrown more curveballs, so I wanted to use all (five) of my pitches (Sunday). I thought my changeup was pretty good.
â€śWe had talked (beforehand) about getting out fast, putting them in a hole. We wanted to do that, then score two runs in every inning. We didn't, but we won. I'll tell you, I love these girls; I couldn't ask for a better team to play for.
â€śBefore Casie made that catch, they all told me they were going to tackle me,â€ť she added. â€śI honestly was waiting for that, so I didn't know what to do. That's why I just stood there.â€ť
Mentioned Ryan: â€śLindsay had a phenomenal game, but I thought our defense was excellent. We got great plays from our second baseman (Walsh), Emily and our right fielder (Beauchemin). That's why I say it was a total team effort.
â€śBut I also have to say that's a good team they have over there,â€ť he continued. â€śWe faced the same team in the finals two years in a row, so there's definitely something to be said for that â€¦ (But) what these girls did was an amazing accomplishment. It's a great group of young ladies, and I'm proud to be associated with them. I can't say enough about each and every one of them.â€ť
Bouthillette's reaction to the Lions' repeat was more than understandable.
â€śI can't believe it's over; this all happened so quickly,â€ť she smiled. â€śI didn't think we were all that tense coming in; we were all more excited and pumped up to play. It had been a long time since we played last.
â€śWhen Adriana hit that triple, we were all jumping and down,â€ť she added. â€śWe had the lead we wanted, and that meant we weren't going to have to worry about scoring later on.â€ť
She admitted she didn't know until Friday afternoon's practice that her coach had changed his flight so he could witness history.
â€śI didn't think he was going to go; I knew he'd say with us,â€ť she said softly. â€śHe loves us, and we love him.â€ť
A better Father's Day gift? No way.