PROVIDENCE – A simple but well-executed bunt that St. Raphael’s Kamryn Labree laid down in the top of the sixth inning Monday proved a turning point in Monday's Division II losers’ bracket semifinal contest against North Smithfield.
If the freshman doesn’t get the ball down, the tenor of the game may have been drastically different. Both pitchers, SRA’s Kaylee Sylvestre and Karissa Carlton of North Smithfield, may have gone on flummoxing hitters and maintaining what was a scoreless, rain-soaked affair at Rhode Island College’s Dayna A. Bazar Softball Complex.
With one well-aimed flick of the bat, Labree changed everything. Her sacrifice bunt helped set the stage for all the offense No.2 seed St. Raphael would need in an eventual 3-0 triumph over top seed North Smithfield. The Saints will try to continue their climb out of the losers’ bracket against two-time defending champion East Greenwich, the game set for 5 p.m. Tuesday at RIC.
The winner of the SRA-East Greenwich matchup advances to play North Providence with the Division II title hanging in the balance. That contest is on the docket for Wednesday with RIC also serving as the site.
With each starting pitcher humming along at an impressive clip – Sylvestre was working on a three-hitter with five strikeouts through five innings while her counterpart, Carlton, had a dozen whiffs while permitting two hits over the same span – it became a question of who was going to blink first. Thanks in large part to Labree, the Saints were able to provide Sylvestre with some margin for error over the latter frames.
The sixth inning began innocently enough with Sylvestre singling on a 2-2 pitch. Looking to sacrifice her teammate into scoring position, Labree sent the ball in the direction of North Smithfield third baseman Angela Pasquariello, who threw a one-hopper to second baseman Tara Larson, at the time covering first.
Seeing what was taking place, Sylvestre hustled over to third to give the Saints runners on the corners with the heart of the lineup coming up.
Freshman No. 3 hitter Haley Mitsmenn quickly fell behind two strikes before getting just enough to deposit the ball in front of Northmen center fielder Jamie LaFazia. Waiting to see whether the ball would be caught, Sylvestre broke for home with the game’s first run in her back pocket.
With two aboard, cleanup batter Hayley Microulis jumped all over the first pitch from Carlton, sending a shot that quickly soared over the head of right fielder Katherine West, the ball rolling all the way to the fence. Labree and Mitsmenn easily scored with Microulis pulling into third with a triple that helped pad SRA’s lead.
Seeking refuge from the rain drops, St. Raphael head coach Ron Labree stood underneath the concession stand and was asked about daughter Kamryn’s “smallball” moment.
“She plays hard and knows what she’s doing,” said proud papa Ron. “As soon as Kaylee got on, she looked at me and shook her head. She knew what she was going to do.”
Working with the lead for the first time didn’t change Sylvestre’s demeanor in the slightest bit. Facing the Nos. 2-4 batters in North Smithfield’s lineup in the last of the sixth, the 10th grader retired LaFazia, Jen Brodeur and Larson – tough outs indeed – in order.
The Northmen’s last gasp saw the II-North champs place two runners on, the result of a Saints’ error and a two-out walk. With No. 1 hitter Jessica Tremblay standing in the on-deck circle, Sylvestre got the potential game-tying run in catcher Sam Archambault to pop up to second, ending the game.
Sylvestre wound up firing a three-hitter with five strikeouts. At one point, she retired 10 straight batters, while posting perfect fifth and sixth innings, the former seeing her retire the Northmen on just three pitches.
“I was able to mix my pitches and have the confidence that the defense would make the plays behind me,” said Sylvestre.
Added SRA mentor Labree, “She won’t back down, she goes right at you. She trusts her stuff.”
Save for the hard-hit ball she surrendered to Microulis, Carlton was her usual stellar self. The Northmen’s junior ace struck out a whopping 16 batters while walking just one.
Other than the seventh, North Smithfield’s best chance against Sylvestre came in the first inning. Tremblay led off with a single with Larson adding a base knock with two down. The bid was extinguished when Sylvestre induced a pop-up to second base.
“We were able to drive the ball at some points, but mostly it was right at people,” noted North Smithfield assistant coach Paul Mercier. “We didn’t get many breaks, but we went down swinging.”
The loss concludes a playoff run that saw the Northmen win two games in dramatic, last at-bat fashion and drop both encounters that took place on RIC’s campus. North Smithfield finishes the season at 18-3.
“Every year we’ve kept moving forward, so you never know what’s going to happen next year,” Mercier remarked.
St. Raphael (21-3 overall) and East Greenwich have already crossed paths in the postseason, the Avengers pinning a 4-1 loss in a winners’ bracket opening-round game that took place a week ago at the Hank Soar Complex.
“We know what E.G. is about and we have a lot of respect for them,” said Labree. “We just played them, and hopefully we learned something from that.”
St. Raphael 000 003 0 – 3-5-2
North Smithfield 000 000 0 – 0-3-1
Kaylee Sylvestre and Haley Mitsmenn. Karissa Carlton and Sam Archambault.