LINCOLN — As Lincoln High senior first baseman McKenzie Cavanaugh walked to her family car late Friday afternoon, she heaved one last grunt – “Aaarggh!” – at what had occurred just minutes before.
She then shook her head in dismay.
Cavanaugh had every reason for the sentiment, and – actually – had to be relating her teammates’ feelings after the Lions sustained a disgruntling 3-0 Division I loss to still-unbeaten North Kingstown at the Saylesville Elementary School diamond.
Three times during the tilt, Lincoln had loaded the bases but failed to register a single run. That was, in part, due to a lack of a timely hit, not to mention the Skippers’ stellar defense and pitching.
The critical frame came in the sixth with the scoreboard unlit; it turned out to be more than topsy-turvy for the Lions.
Junior starting pitcher Rachel Kantor opened with a double to the left-center gap off of senior righthander Lauren Hervieux, and senior Heather Jackson’s sacrifice bunt pushed her to third.
Junior clean-up batter Natalie Wirth then banged a short-hopper to Hervieux, who caught Kantor in a pickle between third and the plate. Eventually, LHS senior shortstop Casie Beauchemin applied the tag, and the Lions avoided danger.
Still, Wirth had hustled to second as the rundown ensued.
The following hitter, junior Emma Simmons, then stroked a hard grounder to Beauchemin at short, and she threw to senior first baseman Cavanaugh, who made a stellar stretch. It seemed as if Simmons was out at first, but the umpire indicated the toss pulled Cavanaugh off the bag.
All the while, Wirth scored to give N.K. the 1-0 advantage.
The Skippers registered two more in the seventh, and – despite some drama in the back half – survived to move to 11-0.
Hervieux pitched rather well in this one, yielding six hits and two earned runs with a trio of walks while whiffing a pair.
Kantor, on the other hand, went the first four, allowing two hits and a walk with a strikeout, but the triumph went to fellow righty and frosh Kiara Oliver. She scattered four hits during the final three frames, walking two and fanning three.
“They’re a well-coached team, and I’ve heard people say they’re the best team in Rhode Island,” skipper Dick Ryan noted after his Lions fell to 7-4. “We may have lost, but we were right there with them; that’s the good news.
“We’ve been playing teams who are near the bottom (of the league), and now we were facing the top team,” he added. “I thought Lauren was fantastic (in the circle). She’s a competitor; she fought tooth-and-nail. We played well overall, but just didn’t get the key hit.”
Offered N.K. coach Adam Laliberte: “We just used the three words we have all year – pitching, defense and base-running. That was the key again here. We got good pitching, and we didn’t make an error.
“Rachel got caught in a pickle in the sixth, but – later – Natalie never broke stride while trying to score (on Simmons’ groundout). We work on that all the time, and that turned out to be the winning run.
“We haven’t beaten the defending champions once since 2008, so this is particularly satisfying.”
In the top of the first, Jackson rapped a two-out single down the left-field line, and then raced to third on Wirth’s hit to right, but Hervieux forced Simmons to fly to left to end the inning.
Lincoln immediately pounced on Kantor in the bottom half. After senior Meredith Walsh reached on an infield hit, she took second when classmate Stacy Mayer beat out a fielder’s choice. In the interim, Walsh was thrown out at third.
Kantor then walked Hervieux to juice the bags, but sophomore Cianna Dumas struck out to close it.
After that, Hervieux retired the next nine hitters before Simmons poked a single to center in the fourth. She robbed second, but Hervieux snared Oliver’s bouncer to the circle and threw to first for the final out.
Following Hervieux’s freebie in the first, Kantor manufactured 10 straight outs before moving to second in the fifth. Oliver took over the chores, and gained three straight outs before getting into trouble in the sixth.
Beauchemin led off with a bunt single, then strolled to second when Walsh was issued a free base. Junior standout Adrianna Toro then tried to lay down a bunt, though junior first baseman Abigail Haberle snared it for the first out.
Mayer’s hit filled the bases once more, and Hervieux took her stance in the batter’s box.
She quickly drilled a hard grounder to sophomore Taylor Chatowsky, who threw home to backstop Jackson. The latter completed the 5-2-3 twin killing, and the Skippers escaped yet again.
“That double play won us the game,” Laliberte stated. “We were going to concede the run if it was hit soft; we wanted the second out, but I told the girls at the corners that – if it was hit hard – to go home. The catcher (Jackson) has a strong arm, and she was able to get the out at first.
“I still say that was the play of the game.”
Ryan explained it this way: “In the sixth, I had my leading hitter (Hervieux) up; she’s batting over .600. She hit the ball solidly, but right at third, and the third baseman and catcher turned the double play.”
Hervieux walked the leadoff Oliver, and sophomore Tara Chatowsky sacrifice-bunted her to second. The Lions’ hurler then whiffed Haberle for the second out, but walked Chatowsky’s twin Taylor.
Junior Amy Augenstein followed with a rope hit to center, plating both for the 3-0 cushion.
Ryan’s bunch nevertheless didn’t go easily.
With one down, senior Kellyn Dyer whacked a hard single to left, and – with two outs – junior No. 9 hitter Abby Majeau knocked a hit to right-center. Beauchemin walked to load them up, but an Oliver changeup struck out Walsh to close the shutout.
“They’re good, just plain good,” Ryan mentioned afterward. “I’m still going to remain positive about where we’re going. We lacked a key hit here or there, and we had a couple of boo-boos defensively, but we played well.
“I know what this team is made of. It doesn’t quit.”