By Colin Flanders
The Essex softball team completed its season of perfection in Poultney on Monday evening en route to capturing its first title since 2012.
Down two, Mount Anthony got the tying run on base before Essex hurler Allie Rutz induced a grounder to second to secure a 4-2 win.
It was a fitting end, head coach Ashley Stebbins said, as seniors like Rutz had set the tone all season.
“I wanted it for them so bad,” Stebbins said of the seniors, who have come up just short of titles over their varsity careers.
The win was the Hornets’ 19th-straight. Stebbins pointed to the team’s offense, something they’d lacked over the past few years, as one reason for their historic run.
She credited the players for taking it upon themselves to get in practice during the offseason.
And when the season began, she let them decide what would best prepare them. Their answer: Hitting, and lots of it. Fast-forward three months, and it seems to have paid off.
The game’s turning point came in the fifth inning, tied at 2. Rutz and Victoria Bean each singled to start the frame before Sarah Knickerbocker grounded back to MAU pitcher Taylor Dicranian for the first out, moving the two Hornets into scoring position.
Jamie Morin then grounded back to the mound, scoring Rutz to make it 3-2. Makenna Thorne, the Hornets’ semifinals hero, then singled to drive in Bean for a 2-run lead.
Throughout the playoffs, Stebbins stressed the importance of winning each inning, a way of simplifying the game. With the fifth inning in their pocket, the Hornets were on a roll.
Mount Anthony didn’t back down, moving a runner to third with one out in the sixth. After a ground ball was thrown to first to secure the second out, the MAU runner took off for home.
The Hornets were ready, however, spinning on a dime to strike the runner down at the plate.
“We pride ourselves on throwing and catching the ball,” Stebbins said. “In a game like this, we knew they would try to steal a run when they can.”
In the seventh, MAU’s Cheyenne Guetti blooped a single to right with one out before Kaity O’Brien walked for the third time that day, placing the tying run on base.
Rutz was unfazed, however. She struck out the next hitter after an eight-pitch battle before a groundout ended the game, sparking the celebration.
Sitting in the outfield after the win, Stebbins asked the girls for a moment of reflection.
“I reminded them of all the coaches they had growing up, all the people that support them, that come to their games — our JV coaches, our grounds crew — it really does take a whole community to win a state championship,” she said.