Erti, a junior, allowed just one run on four hits and one walk, striking out 13 in the circle for the Rocketeers. Baker, a sophomore, was also strong with just two runs (one earned) allowed on three hits, no walks, and 11 strikeouts, including 10 swinging.
A game with two great pitchers is likely to come down to one or two plays, and that’s exactly what happened.
Stoughton took the lead in the top of the fourth inning, but the Rocketeers answered with two runs in the bottom half of the inning. And then erased the tying run at the plate in the top of the sixth on a nice defensive play by North Attleboro junior catcher Ashley Cangiano.
“It was nice to respond,” said North Attleboro head coach Bill Wallace. “We’re still a young team, we had four girls that it was their first varsity start. Having said that, they know the game. We knew that we’d have to put the ball in play.
“Baker did a really nice job, Bella did a really nice job. It was classic pitcher’s day…the wind blowing in, cold…and both pitchers did exactly what they were supposed to. A game like that comes down to one or two plays, and the bunt and the play are home were the two plays.”
Both pitchers had it going early on. Bella retired the first nine Stoughton batters in order, six by strikeout. Baker allowed just two base runners to start, one on an error in the first and Katie Daby’s leadoff single in the second. But neither runner advances past second and Baker had seven strikeouts through three.
“That was a great game and it really could have gone either way,” said Stoughton head coach Deb Parker. “Nicole had a great day, that’s how she throws every day. She keeps her composure and does what she needs to do. She’s going to keep us in every ball game.”
The offenses for both teams came alive in the fourth inning. Stoughton senior Jordan Lyons sliced a one-out triple over the right fielder’s head. Two batters later, junior Lexi Baptista hit a hard grounder through the right side for a two-out RBI and a 1-0 lead for the visiting Black Knights.
Stoughton’s Bri Ferrandiz followed with a single up the middle to put runners on first and second but Erti bounced back with a three-pitch strikeout to escape further damage.
North Attleboro had an immediate response in the bottom half of the fourth. Cangiano led off with a single up the middle. Annabelle Hebard followed with a bunt up the third base line. The ball was bobbled into foul territory, and Cangiano hustled to an open third base, which allowed Hebard to take second.
Daby hit a soft grounder up the middle but the throw to first was high and both Cangiano and Hebard came home safely. Stoughton freshman Sydney Menz made a terrific catch in right and doubled the runner at second to help the Black Knights keep the deficit at one.
“That’s two juniors and a senior making those plays,” Wallace said of leaning on more experienced players while the younger players gain experience. “We only started the one senior today, we have a handful of juniors. We have to learn as we go. We still made some mistakes but we got through it.”
Stoughton threatened with the tying run at third in the sixth but North Attleboro denied the Black Knights. Karly Estremera led off with a walk and moved to second on a single from Baker. A short grounder allowed Estremera to take third and Baker moved to second.
On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Cangiano was able to block the ball down. It looked like it had gotten away from her and Estremera took off for home but Cangiano recovered nicely, grabbed the ball and made a diving play to tag the Black Knight base runner as she slid into home for an out.
“Ashley did a great job on that play,” Wallace said. “I thought she could have had her the play before, the girl got caught leaning a little but I think it surprised Ashley a little bit. But I think that helped because then she was aware and felt like she could have gotten her, and then she did a great job blocking and tagging her.
“I trust our lineup, one through nine we can get it done,” Parker said. “If we’re going to be aggressive and take a chance, I thought that was a chance worth taking. It just didn’t go our way.”
Baker retired the final six batters in order while Erti had a 1-2-3 seventh inning, including back-to-back strikeouts to end it.