CUMBERLAND – Prior to Cumberland High’s Division I showdown with Tolman on Friday afternoon, head coach Marty Crowley issued a message to his players.
“I just told them that Tolman’s a great team, and – like every game – they need to be ready to play, and play hard,” he stated. “I also said that they’re brand new to the league (division), and we haven’t seen them, but we needed to take them like any other (force). The good news is we heeded that warning.”
That was a given: Junior righty Juliet Nelson scattered six hits and two walks while whiffing nine to propel the Clippers to a workmanlike 5-0 victory over the Tigers at Tucker Field.
Nelson had plenty of support from her senior-oriented offense, as Sam Bertherman bashed a first-inning, two-run dinger and finished 2-for-3 with two RBI and two runs scored. Batterymate and fellow captain Bridget Connors went 3-for-4 with a run, Caylin Legare 2-for-2 with a pair of walks, an RBI and a run and Tayla Noke 1-for-3 with an RBI.
In fact, all but two in the starting lineup of nine recorded a hit; they included Nelson and classmate Bea Caron, though the former did tally a run in a two-run sixth frame.
“It was another solid effort for ‘Nellie,’” Crowley grinned after his squad improved to 10-3 overall and 9-1 in league action. “She takes the game very seriously, and it shows on the field. She scattered some hits, yes, but I thought she got stronger as the game went on.
“She was up and out of the zone a bit early on, but she managed to get a little bit of everything working,” he added. “We hit the ball well, but Tolman plays a good defensive game. I still think we left too many on base. I mean, 11 is a lot.”
The Tigers fell to 4-7 overall and 3-7 in D-I, despite a more-than-decent outing from senior Olivia Larson. She yielded 11 hits in all and walked a trio with a pair of strikeouts, though she also forced Cumberland into 13 fly-ball outs.
In addition, it didn’t help that three usual starters, including the sister tandem of senior Jordyn and sophomore Megan Klemanchuck and sophomore Leiandra Wilson, didn’t play. The former pair had to attend the wake of their great-grandfather.
The only Pawtucketer with more than hit was senior Crystal Ritcey, who mustered two.
“(Hitting) has been our nemesis all year,” sighed Tolman skipper Craig Giarrusso. “Defensively, we’re holding teams; I can’t say enough about how well our defense is playing; they’re doing a great job. But, offensively, we’re just not getting the job done. It’s little to non-existent.”
The Clippers needed just two batters to snatch a 2-0 cushion. Connors slapped an opposite-field hit to shallow right, and Bertherman walloped Larson’s fastball over senior centerfielder Ashley Clark’s head, and the rip – with the wind blowing out – went for a homer.
Larson fanned Nelson for the first out, but she walked Legare before Noke popped out to right. Syd Shabomardenly then beat out an infield hit, and Alexis Descoteaux drove ground single between short and third, but Tolman senior left fielder Brittany Bilodeau denied junior Bea Caron a hit with a superb sliding catch down the line to end the frame.
It seemed as if the Tigers would cut into the lead in the second when Nelson issued freshman Kaylee Moline-Vaz a walk, then surrendered Ritcey a lined single to center; she, however, fanned seniors Miranda Echevarria and Shelby Hofknecht to escape unscathed.
Crowley’s crew added another run in the third after Legare walked, took second on Noke’s bunt single, moved to third when Shabomardenly reached on a dropped infield fly and scored on sophomore Rachel Gillardi’s strong bunt hit to short.
In the top of the fifth, Tolman threatened once more, Ashley Hessler drilling a one-out, ground hit up the middle and
Clark drove a high fly to left-center, one Gillardi couldn’t haul in. With baserunners in scoring position, Nelson immediately struck out Larson, then forced sophomore Cristen Chiaverrini to pop out to short.
Cumberland manufactured a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth. Connors reached on an infield single and moved to second after Bertherman delivered a hit to center, but Nelson grounded into a 6-5 fielder’s choice, with Connors out at third.
Legare’s bloop single to short center plated Bertherman, while Noke’s sacrifice fly to the ame field pushed across Nelson.
“At this point of the season, where you’ve been at it for a while, kids can get a little lethargic,” Crowley said. “It’s nearing the end of the school year and things are going on, but we told them we had to remain focused. I know I said there’s still a lot to play for, and – against Tolman – we couldn’t take anything for granted.
“We still have two tough ones coming up next week, with Smithfield and Mount St. Charles,” he continued. “We also have to face Lincoln, Chariho and Cranston West, not to mention East Providence … But we started off nicely, with Sammy hitting the two-run blast in the first to get us rolling. And Rachel’s bunt in the third, that gave us a big run.
“Still, we had the bases loaded twice (in the first and third), but only got three out of them. Again, we have a lot to play for the next few weeks, and against great teams. We’ve got to continue to focus, one game at a time.”