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Lady Eagles fall in semifinals to Stevens, 4-3

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

Gilford’s Abby Harris stands on third base after tripling in the bottom of the seventh inning against Stevens in the Division III semifinal on June 5. Harris would be stranded at third as the potential tying run however, in a 4-3 loss. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
June 11, 2012
PLYMOUTH – Two even teams, one heart-pounding game.

Playing in the Division III state semifinal for the second consecutive year, the Gilford High School softball team led heading into the final inning, lost that lead, and had a chance to win it in the end before ultimately falling to Stevens High School, 4-3, in a memorable contest played at Plymouth State on June 5.

"You have two equal teams playing," began Gilford coach Joan Forge. "The spectators got their money's worth. It was just exciting. There was some incredible defensive plays, some great hits. For us to get 14 hits in a semifinal game, our offense is just on fire. And yet, we come across another offense that is on fire too. It was a fantastic game and just a matter of who was going to score that one additional run."

Second-seeded Gilford (18-1) led 2-1 entering the top of the seventh, but the hot-hitting Cardinals, who had nine of their 11 hits in the last three innings, broke through with their backs against the walls. Alexis Melcher was hit by a Sydney Strout pitch to lead off the seventh, and she moved up to second after a passed ball. With one out, Stevens pitcher Alyssa Nichols reached on an infield single, and Danielle Tenney followed with an RBI single up the middle to tie the game at 2-2. After Strout got a ground out to Mikaela Mattice at second base for the second out of the inning, Stevens shortstop Jodi Dumayne delivered the big blow, as she doubled down the left field line, plating a pair of runs and putting the Cardinals ahead 4-2.

"We were ahead the whole time but in the fourth and fifth inning when they start hitting the ball hard, that's when things get a little shaky," admitted Gilford first baseman Abby Harris. "This season we weren't really used to giving up a lot of hits."

While Strout was on the money in the first few innings, Stevens finally started timing the left-handed junior during their second and third time through the lineup.

"They started hitting (Strout)," said Forge of Stevens. "Good teams are going to start hitting their second and third time up. You try to get lots of outs early so you only see them three times but that wasn't the case. You've got to love a game where there's lots of offense, though."

Watching from behind the plate, Gilford catcher Paige Laliberte said there wasn't much her team could've done differently to put away the tough Stevens bats.

"They're just a good hitting team," Laliberte offered. "We were doing everything we could as far as changing speeds, changing location, jamming them in the hands, those types of things, and they did what they needed to do. It's good to know that we didn't just lose today. They were good. They played well, we played well but in the end things swung their way."

Trailing 4-2 with just three outs left in their season, the Lady Eagles didn't go away quietly. Lisa Osborne led off with a sharp single up the middle, her second of the game, and stole second base. After a strikeout to Laliberte, Harris stepped into the plate hoping to keep the rally moving. She did that and more, driving a bomb to straightaway center field. The ball hit off the glove of Stevens center fielder Mercedes LaQuire just feet from the fence after a great effort just to get in range, and Harris scampered all the way around to third base. Osborne crossed the plate on the play, cutting the deficit to just 4-3 with the potential tying run now at third.

"I definitely was kind of nervous," said Harris of her at-bat. "I was thinking this is now or never, if we don't score then this season is over. And we've put too much time and effort into this season so I don't want to end it now. I went up there thinking the first pitch I like, I'm swinging.

"As soon as I hit that I initially just thought it was a popup," she continued. "Last year I made the last out of the semifinals with a popup so I was thinking, 'Oh no, not again.' And then I turned around first and saw it still going."

Coaching third base, Forge hoped Harris' shot would get out of the park and tie the game. Instead, she settled for an enthusiastic high five with her big-hitting junior after safely arriving at the bag.

"I'm proud of Abby," she said. "I thought that ball was going over (the fence), I really did. That would've been awesome but it's great, she came through under pressure and scored that run."

Laliberte said she wasn't surprised Harris came through in that situation. When Gilford trailed in the seventh inning of last year's semifinal against Somersworth, it was Harris that delivered the game-tying hit to force extra innings.

"You knew that somebody was going to have to be a hero and Abby's the perfect person to do it," Laliberte said. "You know that she's going to produce so to have her up in that situation was comforting. You know she's going to give you something and that was a boost to us to give us a chance."

Mollie Dignan followed with a bunt single, as Stevens elected not to throw to first and allow Harris a chance to tie the game. Dignan stole second, putting the winning run in scoring position with one out. But Nichols got Hannah Chase to ground out right back to her, and she recorded a strikeout to put the finishing touches on the 4-3 win.

"We knew it was going to be close, we knew there were going to be lead swings and all of that," explained Laliberte. "For it to be in the seventh inning the first time they got their lead, it was definitely rough. We didn't have a whole lot of time to work with. We had the meat of our order up which was promising but luck just really wasn't on our side today. Sometimes you get the breaks to fall your way, sometimes you don't."

Gilford got off the kind of started Forge had hoped it would in the first inning, as Strout led off with a single and moved to second on an Osborne sacrifice bunt. After a wild pitch sent her to third, Harris beat out an infield single to second base, plating Strout and giving the Eagles a quick 1-0 lead. It was the first time in three postseason games that Gilford scored first.

The lead grew to 2-0 in the fifth, as Osborne singled with one out and Laliberte and Harris followed with singles of their own to load the bases. Dignan grounded a shot to short, but the throw went to first base, allowing Osborne to scamper home with what appeared to be an important insurance run.

Stevens cut the lead in half in the sixth, as the Cardinals had four straight singles to lead off the inning against Strout, the fourth plating Nichols to make it 2-1. But Strout dug deep, getting a pop up to second base and back-to-back strikeouts to escape the jam and keep the lead.

"It's tough when you feel it," began Forge. "It's the top of the seventh, all you need is three outs. That's all you need to win the game but it's so difficult to get those last three outs."

Harris led the Gilford offense with three hits and two RBI, while Laliberte, Osborne, Dignan and Alyssa Wilson all had two hits in a solid offensive day for the Eagles.

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