JORDYN MOORE throws on to first after fielding a grounder in championship game action Saturday. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
June 09, 2012MANCHESTER — Kennett softball fans couldn't help but feel a sense of déjà vu as the bottom of the seventh rolled around in the Division II championship game on Saturday, June 9.
After all, the Eagles found themselves behind, three outs away from the season coming to an end in a tough manner, with the middle of the order coming to the plate.
To anyone who was at the semifinal game just three nights earlier on the same Southern New Hampshire University field, it was eerily similar.
Then, trailing 1-0, Faye Roberts roped a double and two outs later, stole third, putting the tying run just a few feet away. Ashley Smith drew a walk and Sam Janos strode to the plate.
The Eagle senior had hit the ball well all day and didn't miss in the seventh either, as she launched a shot out into right field. However, the Clipper defense was playing deep and the rightfielder hauled the ball in to clinch the Division II title for the Clippers, relegating the Eagles to the runner-up plaque.
"If you told me before we'd hold them to one run, I would've thought we should win," coach Peter Ames said. "But she (Portsmouth's Mariah Crisp) pitched well and they made some good plays."
Throughout the season, the Eagles were known for their big bats and their solid defense, but neither showed up in full force for the championship game. Kennett had just two hits (including Roberts' last-inning double) and committed four errors, including one that led to the lone Clipper run.
"We didn't hit the ball with authority and when we did, we hit it right at people," Ames said. "Obviously we were a little nervous and we made some mistakes early and they didn't hurt.
"But then we made a mistake in the seventh and they capitalized," the veteran coach said.
The two teams battled through six scoreless innings before the Clippers got on the board, but it was the fourth-seeded Portsmouth girls who had the most chances in the early going.
However, pitcher Vonde Saunders and the Kennett defense managed to work their way out of jams all afternoon.
The Clippers came right out swinging, launching two fly balls to left that Jordan Murphy hauled in for two quick outs. But an error and an infield hit put two runners on base for the Clippers. However, Kaylin Samia tracked down a fly ball in left centerfield to end the inning.
Murphy walked to open the bottom of the inning but was forced at second on a grounder by Samia, but she was stranded at first.
Portsmouth had a bunt hit in the top of the second inning and went looking for a run, but Janos made a nice grab of a throw while covering first on a bunt, helping the Eagles to get out of the inning, with Roberts catching her second foul pop of the frame to end the frame.
Janos had a two-out base hit in the bottom of the second, but she was stranded. Saunders pitched around an error and a hit in the top of the third, striking out the side, but the Eagles went in order in the bottom of the inning.
The Eagles worked around another error in the top of the fourth, as Erin Milford hauled in a pop fly and doubled the Clipper runner off second to end the inning. However, the Eagles went in order again. Saunders pitched around a base hit in the top of the fifth as well.
Janos was robbed of extra bases in the bottom of the fifth, as the Clipper centerfielder made a leaping grab in the gap in left center. Saunders set the Clippers down in order in the top of the sixth inning, but Crisp did the same to the Eagles in the bottom of the inning, setting up the final inning dramatics.
The leadoff hitter in the top of the seventh reached on an error, though nice backup by Gwynn McGinley in right field kept the runner from advancing beyond first. However, she promptly stole second and took third on a wild pitch. With Lauren White drawn in at first in anticipation of a bunt, the next hitter looped a ball just beyond first base, pushing the game's first run across.
Saunders hit the next batter in the foot, but then got a fly ball to left for the first out of the inning. A base hit loaded the sacks, but Saunders induced a pop up in the pitcher's circle and a grounder to the same spot, stranding the three Clipper runners and setting up Kennett's final chance.
"Vonde, she pitched her best game all season," Ames said of the sophomore hurler, noting that it was the first time all year she didn't issue a walk. "I thought our kids certainly played very well.
"We gave ourselves a chance to do it at the end, but we just didn't get it done," he continued. "The effort was there."
The veteran coach also gave the Clippers credit for hanging tough and taking advantage in the final frame.
"I am proud of the kids and what they did this year," Ames said. "And we'll continue to get better."
The Eagle mentor noted the lack of hits was certainly not something he expected from his hard-hitting team.
"We knew we had to hit to win and we just didn't hit," he said.
The Eagles finished the regular season at 13-4 and earned the third seed in the tournament. They defeated Bishop Brady, Milford and Con-Val to reach the finals. Janos, Roberts and Ashley Smith are the team's lone seniors.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 569-3126