FOXBORO, Mass. – It had been a difficult day at the plate for Foxboro. The Warriors left seven runners on base through the opening five innings of Monday afternoon’s Davenport division title showdown with Oliver Ames, and all but one of those runners was in scoring position.
After a couple of singles and a stolen base, Foxboro had runners at second and third with nobody out in the sixth, trying to rally from a 1-0 deficit. A strikeout and a pop up to second later and the Warriors were in danger of wasting yet another great scoring opportunity.
Up stepped No. 9 hitter Autumn Stowell. The sophomore first baseman delivered the biggest hit of the season, lining a single to center to bring in a pair of runs. Foxboro worked around a two-out hit in the top of the seventh, pulling out a 2-1 come-from-behind win that leaves the two teams tied atop the division standings with one league game remaining.
“The bottom of our order has really been delivering for us, so I have a lot of faith in them,” said Foxboro coach Mark Maguire. “I always tell Autumn to spin the top and that’s what she did with a beautiful hit. The first batter of the game scored for them and then we locked it down. We’re really coming together.”
OA grabbed the lead in its first at-bat. Maddie Homer led off the game by beating out a bunt single and then stealing second. Devon Morris moved Homer over to third with a ground out to second and Emily Martin followed with a fly ball to center that was plenty deep enough for Homer to speed home with the opening run.
Foxboro nearly answered right back in the bottom of the first. Natalia Leach beat out and infield single and freshman Meghan Kelley ripped a single off the glove of first baseman Samantha Johnson and up the right field line. After Kelley stole second, the Warriors had two in scoring position with just one out. Katie Melendy, as she would almost all game, escaped unscathed, inducing a pop up to short and getting her first strikeout of the day.
The Tigers went back to small-ball in the second with Caitlin Miller dropping one down and beating the throw. She also stole second and took third on a sac bunt from Madison Monteiro, but Vittoria Cuscia got a grounder to second to end the threat. Cuscia started the Foxboro half of the inning with a single and Jillian Slattery followed with one of her own. With runners at second and third and no outs, Melendy got back-to-back strikeouts and a ground out to end the inning.
In the third, Kelley lined a double over the head of Miller in center and was aggressive on a ball in the dirt to steal third. OA elected to throw down on a first-and-third steal attempt and Katherine Farley threw a strike to get the runner for the second out. Melendy ended the inning with her fourth strikeout.
“Our defense plays really well in high-pressure situations,” said OA coach Lindsey Allison. “We practice it all the time, runners on second and third, runners on second, just kind of holding it. Sometimes I’ll go out there and say, this is what you do for a living. They don’t really get rattled and I was really impressed they were able to do that again.”
She added, “I felt like we deflated their balloon quite a few times on defense but they didn’t die. They stayed hungry and they stayed in the game the whole way.”
OA’s best chance to extend the lead came in the fourth. Melendy lined a single to right center and Miller drew a walk. They moved into scoring position on a wild pitch. Cuscia struck out Farley for the first out and Slattery made a nice basket catch on a line drive by Monteiro. Freshman third baseman Mia Flanagan stayed composed on a long throw across the diamond to end the inning.
“Maybe I should’ve stayed with the small-ball a little bit but you just never know,” Allison said about her team’s approach at the plate. “They were getting inside pitch after inside pitch and they were just having trouble getting around on it. She (Cuscia) found what worked and we couldn’t make the adjustments.”
Emma Callahan led off the fifth with a single, advanced to second on a sac bunt by Leach and third on a grounder to the right side from Kelley, but with two outs Miller made a good running catch in the gap on Flanagan’s liner to keep Foxboro off the board.
Foxboro had been frustrated about not cashing in on its many chances, but the Warriors were still only down a run in the sixth. After Cuscia got through the only clean inning of the game (getting a strikeout, a pop up to short, and a fly ball to center), Ava Hill got them started with a leadoff single in the bottom half. Cuscia followed with a single to right, sending Hill to third, and then stole second.
The energy was sky high on the Foxboro bench, but Melendy seemed unfazed as she got a strikeout and a fly ball to second. Maguire trusted that the bottom of the order could come up with a clutch hit and Stowell paid off that faith by lining a single to center. Hill scored easily and Cuscia came flying around third with the go-ahead run.
OA had one more chance to keep the game alive. Monteiro started the seventh with a soft liner to the right side. Callahan got a great jump from second base and laid out to make the diving grab. Cuscia got her fifth strikeout of the day and, after Miller gave OA brief hope with an infield single, Slattery hauled in a fly ball in center to seal the win.
Maguire said, “I just told the girls right now, if Emma doesn’t make that diving play then it could be a whole different outcome. You saw how pumped up she was when she made that play. It picks teams up when they know their teammates are going to lay out for them.”
Despite the loss, OA can still clinch at least a share of the title in its final league game. It would be the first title for the Tigers since 2014 and Allison talked about what that would mean to the players.
“These seniors have been through a lot,” she explained. “Even the kids, they’re playing this year for the seniors to get them to another tournament. It’s a tough loss. We stay sad tonight and we get up and we go to work tomorrow.”
The Warriors can also clinch at least a share of the league title with a win in their Hock finale, which would end a 51-year drought.
“It means everything,” Maguire said. “We set goals at the beginning of the year and that’s one of them. We have 13 girls in our program but they’re 13 quality kids that bring it every day. They’re going to be pumped…and I’m going to be pumped.”
Foxboro (8-10, 8-7) has a rematch with Newton South on Tuesday and then travels to North Attleboro on Thursday. Oliver Ames (9-10, 8-7) faces North Attleboro in its final game of the regular season on Wednesday.
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