By Adam Samrov
CASTLETON — Even down a pair of runs with three outs remaining in the Division I state softball championship at Castleton University, No. 2 seed Mount Anthony thought they could make up the difference.
Kaity O’Brien singled to start the seventh and when leadoff hitter Rachael Jones blasted a triple into the gap to cut the lead to one, MAU felt the momentum was all on their side.
But top seed Essex and pitcher Caitlin Toth had other things in mind.
Toth shook off the late rally and got a pop-out to end the game, sending the title back to Essex with a 3-2 victory.
“Essex is a great team, we knew it would be a dogfight coming into it and that’s exactly what it was,” said Mount Anthony coach Katie Contrada. “I’m proud of our girls for the way they played today.”
Essex coach Ashley Stebbins, in the middle of her team celebrating its second title in three years, said that her junior pitcher was super resilient in a big moment.
“It showed right there,” Stebbins said. “She got the ball back, went back in the circle and the runner on third never got into her head. She focused on the next hitter, got the pop-up and we’d handled those all day, it was a good way to end it.”
Essex drew first blood with a run in the bottom of the first. Emily Harvey led off the game with a walk, advanced on a grounder to second and got to third on a Makenna Thorne base hit. The cleanup hitter, Jamie Morin, drove in Harvey with a grounder to second.
Toth and Mount Anthony’s Taylor Dicranian put up zeros in the next two innings, with Dicranian stranding the bases loaded in the second.
The senior then helped her own cause in the top of the fourth. With one out, Jamie Boyle singled, only the second hit off Toth to that point. She struck out Emilie O’Brien, but Dicranian crushed a 1-0 pitch over the right fielder’s head, letting Boyle come around and tie the game.
“Taylor crushing that ball was awesome, i think it helped the team relax,” Contrada said. “Hitting Jamie in on that was great to see. The two seniors fought every step of the way to score those runs, it was great to see the seniors come out and do everything they could on the field today.”
Dicranian was 1-for-3 at the plate with the double her only hit.
“It was exciting, I was happy to come up and be able to get that first run, try to start the momentum for us,” Dicranian said.
In the bottom of the fifth, still tied at 1-1, Essex got the big hit they’d been searching for, as Thorne blasted a pitch over the right field fence to give the Hornets the lead again.
“We pitched her high and probably should have kept it low the whole time,” Dicranian said.
But they only came up with the one because Dicranian stranded the bases loaded for the second time in the game.
“Essex has good hitters, they are going to take good cuts, that happens,” Contrada said. “We bounced back, which was really great. After that, I thought we played well. We knew they would come up with big hits and plays too.”
Essex came up with what turned out to be an all-important insurance run in the bottom of the sixth. Dicranian got the first two outs of the inning on a groundout and strikeout, but Molly Bruyns doubled to get a runner into scoring position. She moved to third on Thorne’s infield hit — the senior’s third hit of the day — and scored on Jamie Morin’s hit before Thorne was thrown out at third.
“That was obviously everything,” Stebbins said. “I was a little disappointed in the Colchester game we weren’t able to do that, so I wanted to make sure we got that insurance run and it worked out in our favor.”
That set up the drama in the seventh with MAU getting the tying run to third on the hit from Jones.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my team, even though we lost, it was a well-fought game between the both of us,” said Jamie Boyle, who went 1-for-2 with a hit, walk and run scored.
Jones went 2-for-4 for the Patriots, while Kaity O’Brien added a 2-for-3 day and a run scored. Thorne and Morin both were 3-for-4, Morin adding two of the RBI.
“Our team always believed in each other and never let up, as a coach, I’m proud of that,” Contrada said. “It’s never over until that last out. We had two awesome hits in the seventh, I’m proud of them seeing it through to the very end.”
The loss is only the sixth in the past four years for the Patriots, who will see Boyle, Dicranian, first baseman Kaity O’Brien, center fielder Kaidin Gauthier and outfielder/third baseman Ashlee Billert, along with manager Maddisyn Kinney graduate.
“I’m honored to have been able to coach those seniors for four years because they’re not just great ballplayers, but great young women who I’ve enjoyed spending every minute with, on and off the field,” Contrada said. “They set an example for the younger kids coming up as to character. That’s what they are all about, good character, composed and they’ll set a legacy for years to come.”